FACTORS LEADING TO A CONGREGATION’S DECLINE

External Factors

  • Cultural apathy or animosity toward the church
  • re-zoning, re-routing of roads, closing of town businesses
  • arrival of a mega-church
  • abundance of churches
  • change in ethnic composition
  • decline and aging of population
  • drop in socio-economic status; drop in available jobs, etc.

Internal Factors

  • Decreasing Worship Attendance
  • Aging Membership
  • Financial Stress
  • Ineffective Communication
  • Denial
  • Resistance to Change
  • Loss of Members by Death/Transfer
  • Lack of Pastoral and/or Lay Leadership
  • Loss of Unifying Confession and Values
  • Isolation from Community
  • Unclear Mission in the Community
  • Survival Mentality (wanting the institution to survive without any change)
  • Lack of Ignitor Events (events which cumulatively slow or stop the decline)
  • Lack of Viable Core (few volunteers or donors)
  • Conflict (unreconciled or mismanaged)
  • Triple Elder Effect (older church, older members, and older pastor; difficult to draw younger families)
  • Relational Dysfunction (unhealthy relationships)

Factors Precipitating Increased Likelihood of Closure

  • Critical Attendance Decline (dipping below a “critical mass” of worshipers)
  • Critical Lack of Leaders/Volunteers
  • Critical Income Decline (inadequate resources to support the church’s mission)
  • Fatigue (especially among pastor and leaders)
  • Attrition Due to Open Talk of Possible Closure

ALTERNATIVES FOR CHURCHES CONSIDERING POSSIBLE CLOSURE

  1. Communicate openly with the congregation regarding the present challenges, confronting denial and asking for commitment to a new chapter in the church’s mission.
  2. Participate in a congregational mission formation process.
  3. Secure a loan or line of credit for operational expenses.
  4. Offer facilities for rent to secure additional income.
  5. Call a semi-retired or bi-vocational part-time pastor.
  6. Close for a time and rebirth the congregation under a new name, vision, and pastor.
  7. Ask neighboring churches to send one young couple each to reseed the congregation.
  8. Find a partner or partners for a dual or triple parish arrangement, sharing a pastor.
  9. Form a parish from a cluster of churches and share two or three full-time pastors.
  10. Find a strong mentoring congregation to support your ministry with funds and staff.
  11. Merge with a larger congregation and become one of its multiple sites.
  12. Merge with a cluster of congregations and rebirth as a new congregation on one of the existing sites or on a new site.

CLOSURE MODELS

  1. Traditional Close (assets sold; remaining assets and proceeds usually go to district)
  2. Phoenix Close (assets to new church plant on site, often new pastor, new name)
  3. Merger Close 1 (merge with larger church; assets handed over to larger church; church rebirths as additional site of larger church, likely with new pastor and new name)
  4. Merger Close 2 (merge with cluster of churches; assets handed over to cluster; church rebirths as a consolidated new church with a new name and perhaps new pastor[s])