An article in Alban Weekly, a publication of Duke Divinity School, highlighted a group of non-profit organizations that have sprouted up with an interesting mission. The article, written in September 2017, documents that nearly 3,700 Protestant churches closed last year and most did so quickly and “under duress.” One such ministry founder, Rev. Kate Noellert, discussed the goal of these groups, many who are coming out of the United Methodist Conferences. She states, “Legacy work is about coming in before [churches] get down to the bitter end and offering them a better end — the idea of finishing well and finishing strong and doing that with more care, with more empowerment — giving them the chance to close of their own accord and leave a legacy for the future.”
The congregations, pastors and boards can decide what to do with remaining funds, help members find new places of worship and create “bucket lists” of accomplishments for the congregation to complete together before they close. While it varies widely, some “markers” for deciding whether to close a church include: 1. “Attendance of fewer than 50 people,” 2. “No new baptisms” 3. “No new professions of faith” 4. “History of low financial contribution to the organization/denomination.” The article closed with a list of questions to ask yourself about your congregation. Some of the questions included: 1. Where is your church in its life cycle? 2. If your church closed today how would it be remembered? 3. Where do you see signs of death and decay?
While I can certainly understand there are some times when churches have to close, it is frightening to think mainline denominations are declining so rapidly that they are calling in hospice care for congregations. The numbers look more like an epidemic than a symptom of tough economics or shifting demographics. In 2015, The Legacy Church Project stated that in the next 15 years 35% of the United Methodist churches in the U.S. will close.
The Bible clearly gives us hope that in the last days great revival will come. This is no time to board up our churches. I’m sure our reaction is to say, “Oh, that will never happen to us!” But, God doesn’t need us to have revival. He needs committed, willing vessels, a contrast to the world and the darkness surrounding it. The revival will come, the question remains, will we be ready to be a part of it?