Seven Ways Churches Should Die With Dignity

Death is not a popular topic.

I get it. It’s more encouraging to talk about birth, life and growth.

But I want us to deal with the reality of dying churches in this article. And I hope we can move to a positive approach about these churches.

There are approximately 350,000 Protestant churches in the U.S. Many pundits estimate the number of closings to be about 1 percent, or 3,500 churches a year. For reasons I will discuss in a future post, I estimate the number to be closer to 2 percent, or 7,000 churches a year.

Let’s split the difference and say more than 5,000 churches die a year.

That’s 14 churches that die every day. And the number is likely to increase.

So what can we offer the leaders of dying churches? How can we help them help their churches die with dignity? I have seven suggestions.

1. Be willing to move from denial to acceptance. If your church has declined from 200 in attendance to 25 in the past five or 10 years, it is likely to close soon. Don’t wait until it’s too late to be proactive.

2. Move from guilt to grace. Many members of dying churches feel shame and guilt for the state of their churches. It’s time to forget the past and move into the grace of God’s future. Wallowing in guilt precludes action. Celebrating in grace means moving forward.

3. Avoid merging with another struggling church. An unhealthy or dying church merging with a similar church does not equal a healthy church. At best, it prolongs the inevitability of death from taking place.

4. Consider a re-plant. Your church facilities are incredible assets God has given you. Many new churches are in desperate need of places to meet and worship. Consider giving your facilities to a church plant.

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Thom Rainer
Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources (LifeWay.com). Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and six grandchildren. He was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His many books include Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, The Unexpected Journey, and Breakout Churches.