A simple community assessment often indicates a fair number of declining and dying churches. What once was vital has lost its vitality for one reason or another. Perhaps the community transitioned, conflict/power struggles ensued, or the momentum dynamic was lost. They’ve become irrelevant and unnoticed. Regardless you find a building to upkeep, expenses to pay, and a dwindling pool of people and personal resources. When should a dying church acknowledge the inevitable and resign to die? When is organizational death a better choice?
I think there are several impactful options available for dying congregations. Perhaps the best opportunity is to merge or join with an existing healthy and growing congregation. Cease the model that isn’t working and allow the influence, momentum, and vision of another organization to birth a new work or new ministry with the remaining physical resources. Give God an opportunity to bless. So, when do you choose to die and be reborn?
When a church falls below critical mass. Critical mass is the resourcing necessary to support and fund the vision. Are there sufficient dollars and people? Are you continually deficit spending for essentials? Are critical leadership positions vacant due to lack of warm bodies? Is a core of six to ten people doing everything? Are you unable to maintain minimums to function? You might want to think about pulling the plug.
When all congregational resources are used to perpetuate the past prolonging the pain and the inevitable. Perpetuating the existence (for the sake of existence) of an organization isn’t good stewardship. When organizational survival becomes more important than the mission, it’s probably time to pull the plug.
When a dying church is unwilling to do something completely different. If you keep doing the same things you’ve always done, you’re going to get the same empty results. Previously successful organizations typically won’t entertain drastic change until conditions have reached a critical stage. Congregational change is often unsuccessful in the critical stage because the motive is survival and stated attempts to reach new people are generally insincere. Change comes best during a season of organizational growth possessing momentum to sustain successful revolution.
When a church is in the critical stage and unwilling to drastically change, it’s time to pull the plug. When a congregation wakes up one day to realize its surrounding community transitioned and they’re unwilling to meet their neighbors. What do you do when your community isn’t where you grew up? You move out or you engage. Engaging a transitioned community isn’t about making “old” clones of a previous day, it’s about YOU changing models to genuinely meet your neighbors. If you’re not willing to meet your new community, it’s time to pull the plug.
When there’s no probability of momentum in the congregation. A growing church must have momentum. Don’t get upset at me here, it is what it is. If the average age of your congregation is 67 or older, the likelihood of congregational survival beyond the next seven years is a single digit percentage value. When young and median adults walk into a greying church, the return visit is unlikely. A grey church cannot grow without diversity and particularly the momentum brought by the presence of younger families. You need energy and momentum to move an organization into the next generation. If you’re a dwindling grey church with a noticeable absence of children, youth, young adults and median adults, it’s time to pull the plug.
When conflict is rampant in the organization. Family congregational systems riddled in crisis, personal conflict, distrust, unforgivenss, bitterness, and selfish perpetuation leave little to no room for organizational growth. If you’re a continually dysfunctional dwindling congregation, consider pulling the plug.
For a dying congregation, your future may be a part of another healthier congregation’s story. Don’t consider death as an end, but as a new beginning for what God can do – it’s an opportunity to be born again.