Close Ailing Churches?

There is a healthy enthusiasm for planting churches. It is preached and taught at Bible colleges everywhere. Planting churches is certainly Biblical.  Church planters are to be admired and supported in prayer and finances. Statistics tell us that many churches close each month. Some of them close for a legitimate reason such as God writing “Ichabod”  (God has departed) over the door for some unconfessed sin or disobedience. These are the extreme cases. Unfortunately, there are leaders who have said that some old churches should be closed to make room for the new churches and younger church planters. While it is true that bodies do die a natural death in time, it is not true that the assets of such bodies should be thrown to the wind just because the body is sick. Most of the churches that have been closed could have been salvaged.  The same care, prayer, and forethought should be offered to ailing churches that is offered to many baby churches. Then the land, buildings, bank accounts, and furniture could be saved to be useful to the Lord in future ministries. Sometimes there are unscrupulous men who take ailing churches just to bring them down and liquidate the assets, hoping to benefit personally by the closing the church. This is ungodliness.  Churches are carefully planted by those who are called to do so. Church planters have sending pastors. We often use the term “baby church” when speaking of a church plant. This infers that this baby church has a mother church. Many pastors have been very particular when it comes to the authority of a church planter and the church which he plants. They are careful to be sure that everything is in order and in alignment with Biblical principles. Optimism is high. Enthusiasm is fervent, and the church planter is experiencing faith that could move mountains. This generates money for the new church and the church planter. Some to these churches survive and become great lighthouses for the Gospel. If the church plant grows to maturity, it will reproduce itself many times in the following years. There is the occasion where churches fall prey to Satan’s attacks. Discouragement often causes pastors to resign from their ministries prematurely, and the glorious bride of Christ is treated like an unwanted orphan or an immoral woman. She is left to her own devices. She receives no care except from those who falsely claim to love her. She is used and abused and often left to fend for herself. Men are placed in charge of her who are not qualified to fill the pulpit. Personal agendas take precedent over Biblical principles. When the last blessing has been wrung out of the church that falls into this horrible condition it is often said, “It would be better if the  church closed it’s doors.” My question is, “For whom would it better?” Certainly, it would not be better for the Lord nor His testimony in the community. It would not be better for the souls that had been saved through the ministry of that church. It would not be better for the original church planter nor the church that sent him to plant that church. My conclusion is that when a church closes, it is only better for the devil. He hates the Lord, the Bible, and the churches. If qualified men with integrity will step up and get involved with ailing churches, they could save some of those churches from untimely deaths. There are such men all around us. They are affiliated by fellowship and doctrine. If a man’s doctrine is right, and he is not corrupt morally, or financially, he could be used by the Lord for such a purpose.  It will take some Biblical knowledge, a healthy dose of practical wisdom, mixed with courage to attempt the seemingly impossible chore of reviving an ailing church.  If it is God’s plan for churches to be born, then surely it is His plan for them to be rescued when they are unhealthy.  The Bible teaches that the church is a body. It is a body of living souls.  How could we possibly justify closing these ailing churches? God wants them to be healthy and prosperous for the His glory.

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14 Responses to Close Ailing Churches?

  1. Fountain says:

    Good words Brother Bob, on a subject that needs to be addressed and needs to be aggressively engaged. There are ample men to accomplish the feat of reviving (healing) these churches which are in danger, but I believe part of the problem is financial need and lack of vision. Sometimes the problem could (unfortunately) be jealousy.

  2. Bryan Kelley says:

    Brother Lewis,
    In June of this year we took over an ailing church closed it down and reopened under a new name. In this case the church had a poor testimony and years of playing politics and power struggle. We inherited a building, parsonage and a pavilion with some money in the bank and no debt. To simply open the doors cost 1,300.00 a month.

    What I was hoping to be an easy restart has proven not to be the case. With all the years of power struggling the community is very slow to believe that things are going to be different even though there is new leadership and a new name. I believe it will take three years or more to turn it around.

    There is a great need for ailing churches but the challenges can be harder than giving birth to a new one, yet challenges that the Lord is able to meet.

  3. Robert Lewis says:

    Thank you for your well written insight on a very important issue. Of course this just opens the door of thought, there could be a whole movement among churches to revive and strengthen ailing churches.Bible college could have whole courses on how to and some of the best ways to aproach taking a ailing church. My take on this is that it takes more of a seasoned man to revive a work, rather than a hopeful man ripe from college. Big Hopes and Dreams ALONE don’t always work on those who have had much pain and discouragement. Each move and decision should be right on the mark rather than simply by trial and error. Unfortunately many times it is only the young and full of faith that can live on the tiny amount of pay that a failing church can give. Since the overwhelming missions offerings go the the church planters, and missionaries in foriegn countries, little is left to help these churches recover and survive. The people of the church must also be willing to change, adapt, and reach up, sometimes its harder to teach an old dog new tricks, but it can be done. Just a thought.

    Mike Karch, at revmk311@juno.com

  4. Robert Lewis says:

    Hello Brother Robert,

    Thank you for the article, “Close Ailing Churches?”

    For the last two years my family and I have been looking for a church to revive and use the people as Biblical means to move forward the commands of Christ. Before this time, we spent a year in the Northwest looking for a church to take and eventually just went ahead and tried to plant a church in Oroville, WA (City of Gold Gold Baptist Church) – As you may well remember.

    This church planting experience told me what I already knew, that having a building and some kind of core people is way better. So, for the last two years my wife and I have visited several “ailing” churches and even candidated. All of these churches that we desired to work with had problems that would inhibit any kind of revival. We have seen the worst of the worst in these churches (borders on the unbelievable).

    One issue is that as a preacher ages and gets way up in years, there is no place he can go and be provided for (and still contribute to the Lord in some kind of way). So, the church whittles down to nothing. To bad there is no way to support our elders.

    Another issue has been the practices of “maverick” preachers. These “mavericks” have mavericked themselves out of fellowship with other preachers and now their people will not accept any other kind of personality.

    Another issue has been the time of an ailing church has spent with no pastor. When a pastor leaves in the night and no one is there to help transition, the people’s personalities tend to dominate. And when the sheep up rise…

    I am glad for the decisions that I have made for the the last three years. My family has grown closer to the Lord and we have grown in our friendships with other preachers. I have been teaching full time in a public school, a job that I lament, yet know it is right to support my family. Today, I am writing from a hotel in Salt Lake City in search of an opportunity, whether it is a church planting opportunity or ailing church. Salt Lake has cities of 30,000 with not even a charismatic/Pentecostal church- amazing as that sounds, it is true. Maybe this is will I will end up.

    I still believe that your article is right on, unless we have the network of fellowship we will still fragment and dissolve.

    Still looking and enjoying the Lord,

    Ray and Rosie Isenberger

  5. Dr. D. R. Baker says:

    Robert this is the subject for our time – to many say just let them die – and we will build more, better churches. What a shame – ailing, dying churches can be reborn if they have leadership – if they return to their first love, and remember the first things, winning souls, affecting their community, standing for righteousness, and carrying out the great commission. A dying church forgets not only its mission but its mission field. That they are planted ion their Jerusalem. Keep preaching brother and raise this issue every where you go. Our young men need to take up this challenge to preach where God has planted and to reap the reward of service. You know the story of Harmony – we baptized 3 on the last day of 2012 and had two join by letter… to cap a year of victory for a church that in 2009 was dying and some said jut let it go.. We expect too carry the banner of Christ even more in 2013. Lifting the Cross in Ponca City – supporting missions around the world. Brother Baker

  6. Orval Stanley says:

    Brother Lewis,

    Thank you for a well written article. As I read the responses I also see that others are not only aware of the difficulties to be overcome in reviving a work but have also, in a few instances, tried to revive a work.

    I worked for nearly ten years striving to revive a small church but in the end found the continued discouragement crushing. I would have stayed, but in desperation I made a choice that afterwards I regretted making.

    To add some insight to both the blessings and struggles I thought I would respond. This response is not to focus on me, but to give one who might be considering taking a small work a glimpse of what happens behind the scenes.

    First you are probably going into a matriarchal or patriarchal situation and not always will you realize it until you over step what is considered your authority.

    Secondly, your small church will be heavily attended by scattered families who will be inter-related to others in your church and you will not even know it till you deal spiritually with someone within that expanded family circle.

    Thirdly, small churches attract people who want to build their small domain. I am speaking about the visitor who comes in all smiles and brings his wife or family telling you that you are the greatest thing since peanut butter and jelly. They may well be upfront and truthful but I suggest you contact their previous church anyway. And keep in mind that in many minds he who controls the money (speaking treasurer here) has a say in church government.

    Fourthly, the greatest immediate concern upon becoming pastor is the getting church finances in order. Budget items that cannot be ignored are, insurance for facilities and vehicles, if you have any, utilities, Sunday school material, and church supplies. Add to this the need to have the books audited immediately and set up a check and balance system that removes pastor from everything but a petty cash account. Just a note here from experience, when I began setting up a check and balance system I found that very seldom did the deposits match the offering count. I immediately assumed we had a thief somewhere in the accounting line. As it turns out that was not it. We simply had a man who could not add and subtract and removing him without upsetting the body eventually proved to be impossible (or I was not long suffering long enough for the Lord to do it) as it created a rift between us that never healed properly though I tried desperately to make it work.

    Fifthly, Constitution and by-laws will probably allow for mandatory meetings in order to buy a box of trash bags. It is time consuming and causes division and constant irritation. Get this taken care of as soon as possible.

    Sixthly, do we change the name of the church or keep the church we have intact? Remember, if you change the name, accounts will have to be changed, insurance will have to be changed (you could be paying 2 bills while waiting for name change to go through, safety deposit boxes will need to be changed, your exempt status will have to be redone, In some cases you may need to redo property lines and may have to redo your building to bring it up to code. Make sure you try to cover every eventuality. We decided to keep our name after I began to check into what it would take to change it.

    Seventhly, people get locked into a certain formality or tradition in any church, though we know that these traditions have no scriptural binding. Nonetheless they would have been started based on a scriptural idea and therefore must be thought through before disbanding. It would make it easier for the new pastor to let the people know that he will not change anything for 6 months or some other suggested time table.

    In the church that I became pastor the former leadership had allowed NIV’s and pushed plurality of elders. I did not confront either but simply set about refuting these stands through teaching and reinforcing the King James when I had opportunity. After a couple of years any potential problem was gone.

    I read a book entitled Well Intentioned Dragons, by Marshall Shelley, describing some of the people problems that come with being the new pastor. The book did well pointing out that people want to help and be a help but sometimes it’s difficult for us to see from their advantage point. I would recommend this book even though it may not line up doctrinally in all areas. I could write much more but these are (I hope) some considerations.

  7. Bro. Lewis, this is a very timely article and as we endeavor to re-establish an ailing church in Arkansas we recognize many of the challenges and blessings which you have enumerated. Thank you for such a challenging, encouraging, and refreshing insight!

  8. Hello Dr. Lewis:

    What a timely article, my Brother! I wish every preacher were able to read it and digest it. The SBC is currently pushing, what they call “Revitalization Conferences” which consists of assuming ownership of the small, dying churches/properties and restarting them as additional campuses of the larger ministry. That is happening aggressively in Florida. My point is, while I don’t agree with their methodology on this, they have recognized the unseen assets within these dying churches; the land, the buildings, etc.

    2.5 years ago we assumed the pastorate here at Grace. There were 15 adults in that first service and a shrinking school ministry. The last couple of years have been very difficult at times but, by the grace of God, we have turned the corner and now average over 100 and are growing every week. We now have a thriving, soulwinning church with vision and God is blessing. We simply need men who are willing to “do the hard thing” and quit looking for the “green pasture” of ministry. Men, who are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get to work for the glory of God.

    It would be good to create a national platform thru the GIBM to promote this need and draw attention to it. This should recieve as much consideration by our young graduate “church planters” as starting a new work and should be viewed as a new missions work endeavor with regards to support. Just thinking out loud a bit. God bless you Doc!

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