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American Churches Going Bankrupt

Yesterday, a friend sent me a revealing article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal concerning churches who are going bankrupt because they can no longer afford to pay their building mortgages.

Evidently, they built larger facilities or expanded existing facilities because their attendance was rising—and taking on debt wasn’t a concern with the anticipated growth. Then the recession hit and people lost jobs, young professionals moved home to stay rent-free at their parent’s homes elsewhere, or people just stopped giving, fearful of what might happen in the future in an uncertain global recession.

I must say this recession has been brutal on the church in general and non-profits like TOUCH in particular. Had TOUCH not been debt-free with rainy day savings in the bank (as well as my wife and I personally) you would not be reading this blog post! I’d be back in sales at some company and Etna would be an accountant at an oil company again.

This long-term financial crisis is reminding the Western church and especially the pastors of those churches a great lesson that cannot be easily dismissed: THE CHURCH IS THE PEOPLE, NOT THE BUILDING.

Many of the same pastors who screamed this loud and long from the pulpit are the same ones who are calling the bank and telling them they can no longer make mortgage payments. Think what you like, but in my mind, the church really was about the building and everything that went on inside it weekend after weekend.

I’d love to see the recession drag on for just a few more years, as crazy as that sounds. It just might kill off the rest of the attractional church building and building-centric program based thinking in America and force the pastoral leadership in this country to think differently about the church.

Will churches close their doors in the next year or two because of the recession? You bet. Read the Wall Street Journal article and you’ll see that more churches are going bankrupt today than ever before. But it doesn’t mean the members of the church aren’t meeting elsewhere and becoming the church, not showing up to a building to do the same old time religious thing each week.

BTW, while ministries like TOUCH are closing their doors, you don’t have to worry—like Joseph, the board members of TOUCH were wise to store up excess cash years ago to weather this drought. We’ll be around for many, many years to serve you and your church as the best source for consulting, training, and resources for cell groups and holistic small group ministry.

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Randall Neighbour is the President of TOUCH Outreach Ministries, Inc., a non-profit organization located in Houston, Texas. His threefold ministry focus is to consult, train, and resource churches as they fulfill the Great Commandment and Great Commission through a highly relational holistic small group-based model for church life. Randall is the author of six additional resources for small group members, leaders, coaches, and groups, including the book, The Naked Truth About Small Group Ministry.