Here’s a question that frightens even the most faithful and passionate church leader: Why do churches close? The reason church leaders don’t want to ask this question is likely because it’s hard to consider that something they are doing might not be working. They put so much time, effort, and money into their ministry, and nobody wants to believe they have wasted that effort.
The hard truth is that as many as 7000 churches close their doors every year. That means that, on average, 19 churches close their doors every day. This is an alarming statistic, and this article will attempt to delve into why those churches are closing.
Why Do Churches Close?
Here are a few possible reasons:
- Resistance to change. For a church to grow, it’s got to have the room to evolve as new members come on board. Minor changes, such as deciding to do away with hymnals and opting to project the lyrics of songs onto the wall, can cause members to leave. If your church base is that resistant to change, then you shouldn’t be surprised when new people don’t want to stay in your church.
- Failure to grow/keep your donor base. The church needs money to keep the lights on. As the congregation dwindles, so does the cash flow. It’s imperative that you give your members as many easy options to donate as possible.
- Failure to embrace technology. Millennials are notoriously connected to their phones and technology. Using social media is a great way to reach and minister to them.
- Failure to embrace leadership. One person cannot do everything. As the church grows, so will the need for staff and other leaders in the church. A pastor must be willing to delegate tasks to other church members and guide them into leadership positions.
- Lack of a clear vision for their ministry. Many small churches have forgotten why they exist. You have to be clear on where you want your church to go, what you want your church to do, and how you want your church to grow.
What Are the Indicators That a Church Is About to Close?
Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources, lists the following signs that your church may be about to close:
- Your attendance has been declining for four or more years.
- The church is disconnected from the community.
- The congregation consists of mostly senior adults.
- The church is focused more on the past than on the future.
- Members are mostly concerned about meeting their own needs than ministering to others.
- Change is met with fierce resistance.
If your church is facing any three or more of these issues, then it’s on a path toward potentially closing its doors. A church has got to be flexible. People expect the church to be a pillar in the community, and they expect that the church is reaching out to people beyond their own four walls.
If your church is facing these issues, you have three choices. You can embrace change and try something new. You can close for a season, then reopen with a new name and a new vision. Or, you can do nothing and let it die.
What Can Churches Do Better?
It takes a strong person to admit that what they’ve been doing is wrong. It takes an even stronger person to make a change once they’ve realized they were wrong. But, if you don’t want your church to die, and you’re facing a dwindling congregation, then you need to try something different. You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.
- Engage your congregation online with email devotionals and/or a Facebook page. Imagine the value the people in your community would have if you were to post a small daily devotional or offer a few words of encouragement from your church page. A church without an online presence in today’s digital world is missing out on major opportunities to expand their ministry and bring in new members.
- Create questionnaires online that allow people to find their God-given talents. Often the people in your church are confused as to what their calling may be. Many people think that if you aren’t preaching or teaching in a church, then you don’t really have a calling. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Everybody in your church has a job they can do. Help them figure it out by creating a questionnaire.
- Provide a clear path toward involvement. Sometimes people just want to be told what to do. As a leader, your job is to delegate tasks so that your mission is fulfilled. You don’t have to do it alone. Reach out to people and tell them how they can get involved. Create a list of things that need to be done in the church and post it on the bulletin board and on your church website.
- Create ways to collect donations online. 50% of people don’t use or carry cash anymore. How many people would like to donate to your church, but find it incredibly inconvenient to go to an ATM to get money to put in the collection plate? Your church’s main goal is not to make money, but if you don’t find ways to raise funds, you won’t be able to afford to keep the door open.
- Put your sermons online. Today’s family is incredibly busy, especially if there’s more than one child. Even the most faithful member of your congregation has obligations that take them out of church once in a while. The key to keeping members is keeping them engaged and in the loop. Having the ability to watch a sermon they missed or even to rewatch it later in the week for encouragement is an awesome way to keep members engaged.
The key word here is engagement. Your members need to be challenged and engaged by your ministry. They want to be involved, and a great leader will find ways to make it easy to do so. In today’s digital age, the most effective way to engage people is to make use of online resources.
Why do churches close? The short answer is that members aren’t being engaged and challenged by your ministry. So, it’s time to take the steps to rectify that, and to boost your ministry by putting resources online for your members and the community in your area.
You may face resistance at first, but that’s okay. When your church is thriving because of the changes you’ve made, you can look back on this moment as the moment you chose to grow your ministry to what it was meant to be.