Why Congregations Die (Part 2)

dying church 2Click here to read part 1.

Thinking through the analogy a little more, I served a church from years 160 to 171 in it’s life span (Now 180+). By God’s grace we grew from 315 to 650… built a $3.2 mm building… and operated in the black for the first time in over 20 years. Most recently I served a church in a transitioned community over 100 years old with the average age of 70+. In 20 years they declined from 1,100 to 275 primarily due to a changed community. If it only boiled down to “want to,” this congregation could’ve reached the community. But people on walkers with oxygen tanks knocking on doors in a high crime neighborhood wasn’t wise (70% of the membership had moved out of the community but commuted back on Sunday AM). At the same time, an ethnic church (African/American) next door is busting at the seams!

I suggest the “death” of some congregations is God’s will in order that: New/Other congregations grow… New congregations are born… Kingdom work (Always) continues… New methods replace outdated ones… and God is glorified. After all… “God works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11).

The SBC Missions philosophy is: Go to a country… reach people of that culture… train them in the Gospel… provide ongoing support and resources… then leave the work for them to carry on while we go to another unreached culture. The best people to reach Vietnamese are Vietnamese, the best people to reach Asians are Asians, and the best people to reach a community are those who live IN the community and reflect their demographic. To fight this reality (In an ethnic diverse city/nation) is not wise in my estimation. BUT THERE IS A GOOD PATH TO TAKE!

From personal experience, the best way a church in a transitioned community can honor God is to recognize their situation and embrace God’s will for the Kingdom according to the SBC Missions Philosophy. As written, “One plants… another waters… God gives the increase.” Whether a congregation is part of planting, watering, or reaping the harvest… they are ALL part of God’s work and are ALL necessary in expanding the kingdom.

Why does a church die? Again, It doesn’t. Congregations die… not the Church. The problem is that congregations equate their personal existence (Life/death) as being The Church. If/when a congregation can embrace their immortal existence AND their place in God’s eternal plan for redemption, THEN they will be free to embrace what is happening in America ethnically and demographically and participate in something God sized (Continuing to reach people for Christ).

Like dying humans, congregations fight against the inevitable (Death) not considering that “A grain of wheat must fall to the ground and die” in order for life to spring forth. A congregation must be content to be part of the eternal process of the kingdom! They may plant… without ever seeing the harvest. They might water… without ever seeing the harvest. They may reap the harvest… without ever planting or watering. One is not more important than the other because God gives the increase. Too many today just want to be harvesters. There is something to be said for those who are like those described in Heb 11:13, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar…”

Maybe the best stewardship a plateaued/declining congregation could follow would be to plant or tend or water for another generation to reap the harvest AND be content not to actually SEE the harvest, but greet it from afar. Just a thought…

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3 comments on “Why Congregations Die (Part 2)

  1. Dave Gomez says:

    I’d like to send an email, but you have no email address on your blog, maybe you can email me first. Thanks!

  2. Scott says:

    I’ve often thought that letting congregations die is a good idea. Glad to see I’m not alone there.

    At the same time, there are congregations that commit slow suicide. Why? I think its because in a well intentioned effort to obey the great commission they forget to become a true Acts church and look after the needs of the congregants. Spiritual/physical/fiscal health is often ignored and to let all that go by the wayside because a famous pastor/author says looking inside is wrong is, well, wrong. Its not either or. It has to be both/and.

    Suicide vs. God appointed end?

    • Ron says:

      Thank you for your comment! Interesting and provocative.

      As for me, I’m not sure I’d say congregations commit slow suicide as much as they are unwilling to “pull the plug” when the time has come. Just as it is hard to make that decision in real life (Which I have had to do myself with a family member), it is hard for congregations to accept reality… death of one congregation. But that is because they don’t contemplate the possibility of resurrection! They don’t see how they can be “an organ donor” to another congregation to give them LIFE.

      If a dying congregation would be willing to DONATE their buildings to a new congregation, new life may very well come as a result! In fact, I believe the LESS selfish a dying congregation is (Being willing to DONATE for the continuation of life), the more of a Kingdom mindset that congregation has. My wife’s church ran 1,200 in the 1960s. When we got married there they had dwindled to 200. Five years later the last 10 finally voted to sell the church and give the money to missions (Which saddled the new congregation with debt that it couldn’t pay… and folded). IF they had more of a Kingdom mindset to DONATE their facilities… who knows what would have happened?

      My prayer is that churches would have the FAITH to plant and water SO THAT another can reap the harvest… which is all in God’s hands.

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