Last year, Thom Rainer predicted that the pandemic would cause the deaths of many churches. I did not disbelieve him, but I hoped his prediction would not come true. Sadly, at least in our association, several churches have died or soon will. I serve on the Mission Team of the Kauf-Van Baptist Association, which includes the Southern Baptist churches in Kaufman and Van Zandt counties in Texas. Our area lies to the southeast of Dallas, and our member churches include some in the eastern suburbs of Dallas and many in the small towns and countryside east of the DFW Metroplex.
At our recent team meeting our DOM reported that two churches have disbanded; one will soon, and another will have a meeting to discuss its future. One of the churches that closed was a Hispanic church (Church A) in the country. The pandemic killed the members’ jobs, so they returned to Mexico. The pastor was left with no congregation. The second church (Church B) was a country church that gradually dwindled down to the point the remaining members could not afford to maintain the church. The church that will probably disband soon is also a rural church (Church C) with only a few members remaining. They have a nice building, but there are few members.
What are the options for dying churches? Of course, one option is just to close, to disband. If a church chooses this, then the remaining members must decide what to do with their property and remaining funds. Church A above disbanded and donated its remaining money to our Association. Church B decided to give their property to a cowboy church. (We are in Texas, after all.) The cowboy church is repairing the property, and it plans to launch a satellite church at that location. Church C will probably donate their property to the association, and we’ll start a new church in that building.
Struggling churches have several options:
- I wrote about this above. Some churches do not own a facility, so there is nothing to donate.
- Revert to mission status. Lots of congregations exist for a time as a mission, then they are constituted as a church. In some state conventions, it is possible for a church to revert to mission status, which makes the congregation eligible for help from the association and state convention.
- Become a satellite of a strong church. Some struggling churches are absorbed by a strong church and become a satellite of the strong church. My son and his family are members of a big Bible church near Detroit, and that church has absorbed the facilities of several dying churches. The members of the dying churches wanted to see a gospel witness continue in their community, so they gave their property to the Bible church, which started a satellite church there.
- Sometimes it makes sense for a dying church to merge with another church.
- Restart the church. Often, I advise a dying church to donate their property to the local association or state convention. The idea is that the association, state convention, and NAMB will start a new church on the campus of the former church.
- Ally Church. With this, a strong church allies itself with a weaker church. This helping relationship may continue for a stated duration or indefinitely. This is not often done, but I believe it has great merit.
Well, dear Voices readers, what do you happening in your area? Are churches dying? Do you have other suggestions for dying churches?