LifeWay Research director Scott McConnell was interviewed about our current health care crisis where almost every church in the country is not holding physical services. In an article entitled, Empty pews, empty collection baskets, coronavirus hits U.S. church finances he said:
“It would not surprise me at all if 5% of churches close over the next year,” McConnell said.
That is five times the typical annual closure rate estimated by The Christian Century, a U.S. mainline Protestant magazine.
If his speculation holds true (and he did not apply it to just SBC churches) that would mean around 2,500 SBC churches would not survive another year. There are reasons I think that the percentage would be much less for SBC, explained below. I don’t know if LifeWay Research does any prognostication about SBC church closures.
The photo above is of a church near me, United Methodist, which has closed. The container beside the building is not for a church renovation. I believe someone bought the property and is converting it to something, perhaps another church. The defunct congregation was part of a two-charge UMC situation. It has been very tiny, just a handful of people, for a long time. The hierarchy decided to fold it in with another UMC church, I suppose.
Southern Baptist churches don’t operate this way, as we all know. The tiniest church can linger on for decades with a handful of people. Churches that are new, have a lot of debt, have mountainous maintenance expenses, or are already in a crisis may not survive.
This graphic is from 2017 and shows that half of American churches have 15 or more weeks reserve. The other half has less than 15 weeks in reserve.
For most of the time I was a pastor my church had far less than fifteen weeks in reserve. For some stretches it was Sunday to Sunday. No doubt some churches will struggle. My experience is that in a crisis or when there is a need, the congregation steps up and meets the need.
With the Paycheck Protection Plan having the potential to cover eight weeks of payroll, rent or mortgage and related expenses, some churches will have more of a cushion.
So far as I know, there isn’t data reported on SBC church closures. We get a total number of churches and can see if there is a net gain or loss. If readers know any state or national body that collects the number of closures, I’d like to see it.
No one tells an autonomous SBC church what to do, except maybe the fire marshall or governor in a crisis. Certainly, no one tells an SBC church they have to close.
I’ve read of the coming tsunami of SBC church closings. Figures are tossed about gravely and with appropriate alacrity (“Twenty percent of the churches around you will close within the next ten years!”). Pastors take the breathless pronouncements back to their churches and work the stat into a sermon. Apocalypse not. Hasn’t happened, yet.
We will see.
The church shown above has an adjacent cemetery, not shown in the photo. The cemetery is not closing and is handling the crisis well. I’m guessing that there are SBC churches that stick with it just to handle the cemetery, though no one would admit it.
I’m told that the SBC will provide data that shows the total number of churches which will include different meeting sites, campuses. That should be an instant boost to the number. Seems to me that such would be a useful number to know. These ecclesiastical franchise operations, multi-site churches, count ’em one-by-one and give us the total.