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  • Writer's pictureKeith Haney

The Pain of a Congressional Closures

One of the least fun parts of my work is telling a church it is time to let go. When I have to discuss this possibility with leadership, I am sensitive to the fact this is an emotionally charged time. It may be painfully obvious to everyone around it is time to move on, but in this building is a lifetime of memories. People were baptized, married, had children confirmed in this place, and buried loved ones. Now the place housing all those memories will be sold to someone with no connection to the history, the memories, or the sacrifices made to keep this ministry afloat. This post will give you some suggestions on how to move these saints forward.

1. Healthily honor the past.

The home of Paul Laurence Dunbar, a noted poet, is open to the public in Dayton, Ohio. When Dunbar died, his mother left his room exactly as it was on the day of his death. At the desk of this brilliant man was his last poem, handwritten on a pad. After his mother died, her friends discovered that Paul Laurence Dunbar’s last poem had been lost forever. Because his mother had made his room into a shrine and not moved anything, the sun had bleached the ink in which the poem was written until it was invisible. The poem was gone. If we stay in mourning, we lose so much of life. - Henry Simon Belleville, Illinois

Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 says, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”

While Paul was talking about death, the closing of a church was also a death. It is the death of the ministry of that congregation. The death of the vision its founders had for the community. A loss of community. But as Paul reminds us about death, none of this means we are without hope.

The church closing still uses the resources of the building to bless other ministries, another worshipping community, or even the people in this community. The members who are now the stewards of the past and present grieve. But the Church grieves with the hope of a better and more glorious future for themselves and their church.

2. You are not a failure and you are not alone.

Thom S. Rainer points out, “Between 6,000 and 10,000 churches in the U.S. are dying each year. That means around 100-200 churches will close this week. The pace will speed up unless our congregations make some dramatic changes.”

Many churches have gotten to this point for a variety of reasons. Losing sight of the mission is usually high on the list. It is easy to get caught up in the joy of the internal community and forget the community outside your walls. I remember visiting one congregation on the verge of closing and I asked them to describe their community. Armed with the most recent demographics, It prepared me to compare the accuracy of this report. To my surprise, the pastor and older members described their community in 1973. Things around them had changed, even passed them by.

The problems are simple but no less painful. Adapt your ministry approach or die. Hear what I am saying. Change the way you connect with your community. Do not change your confessions or your theology. Nor the power and message of the Gospel, but adapt the way you do ministry. It worked well in 1973, but this is a post-Christian society. The church is a foreign concept to most. Meet them in their arena because they will not darken yours.

3. Remember, God is still Lord of the Church.

Our God is a master of the comeback. He is a resurrection, God. God snatches life out of the jaws of death. While closing a church might be difficult, it is not the last word. A congregation could give its most powerful witness to the saving grace of Jesus Christ when it trusts God to bring life out of its death. Face the reality of your situation head-on. Trust in a God of new life. He is constantly doing a new thing, creating and re-creating. So, as a body of believers, listen to the will of God for you and your future and know death does not have the final word.

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1 Comment

Jan 17

Good article! Congregational closures create a lot of pain and disillusionment. Compassion and empathy are in place. There are people who have spent their lives and their fortunes to help a congregation survive. The inevitable is hard to face.

I know a man in his 80s who began going to his LCMS congregation when he was seven. His children were baptized, confirmed, and married in the church. There are now about 30 people in a service and most of them are elderly.

May the Lord give you wisdom as you assist congregations needing to make hard decisions. Congressional closures, on the other hand, could be a good thing.

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