1 percent of churches close doors each year

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Religion News Service is reporting that about 1 percent of congregations close their doors each year, an amazingly low number compared to other organizations. The reason most congregations fail? Here’s one person’s take:

“The main difference between congregations doomed to disband and congregations destined for revival is a willingness to adapt, to alter their congregational identity in response to change in the communities in which they are located,” the authors of the study concluded. “And whether a congregation is willing to adapt depends largely on the outcome of conflict between advocates of the status quo and advocates of change.”

And here’s how one person taps the brakes on any giddiness someone maybe feeling because churches close at such a slow rate?

Mark Chaves, a sociologist at Duke University and co-author of the study, said a low mortality rate should not automatically be considered good news for houses of worship.

“Normally, one would think such a low mortality rate means that congregations overall are unusually healthy organizations,” he said. “But we believe that’s probably not the case. Instead, we think it means that congregations are a type of organization that has ways to stay alive even when they are very weak.”

 What do you think about churches closing? Painful problem or natural occurrence?

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30 Responses to “1 percent of churches close doors each year”

  1. wackypreacher Says:

    Many churches are probably just barely hanging on. Some may have some people with money that are paying all the bills to keep the lights on. Those churches may hang on for a few more years and then shut down. I suspect that a large portion of churches are holding on to the past and will never change and will thus die. I know in some churches “Change” is a dirty word. It is hard to move from what you have been comfortable doing to something that is out of sync with your very being. Some are a few funerals away from dying or living again.

  2. Tim Dahl Says:

    Could there be a spike in church closings within the next 10-20 years? The reason I ask is because most of the Builder Generation will no longer be active participants any more. It seems that that group is what is keeping most of our churches open. With their death/absence, it seems that something is going to happen.

    What do you think?

    Tim Dahl

  3. wackypreacher Says:

    Tim, I think you have hit the nail on the head. In our church the Builder Generation is slowly dying out and not able to participate as they did in the past. But they can still vote and control with their money. The younger ones don’t come to business meetings and are not as giving. So they get frustrated and move on to other churches.
    The key may be getting the younger ones more involved in the process of how a church runs and then being able to keep it going.
    Bob Cheatheam

  4. John Says:

    Bob, I know you’ve been a proponent a changing the way the church does things. Do you think the key is getting younger generations “involved in the process of how a church runs” or changing the way Baptist churches are structured? I might be splitting hairs, but I’d be interested in your take.

  5. wackypreacher Says:

    The structure of a church is what it is. Changing that or waiting for the structure to change could be daunting at best. I think the younger ones need to work within the structure and maybe down the line make changes as needed to make the structure more effecient.
    If young people come in changing the structure right away, they will be put down or heavily discouraged from doing so. If that is the case the young people will probably lose ground. So I say work with what ya got.

  6. Tim Dahl Says:

    Changing any system is extremely hard.

    That being said, I was in a church council meeting yesterday; of course there was some *cough* discussion around the area of money. In the midst of the discussion, looking around the group, I realized that I was the only one there below the age of 55ish, and all but one other was over 70. There is a real possibility that most of that group won’t physically be able to participate within the next 5 years. (also, my youth minister wasn’t there…if he would have been then there would have been 2 of us under the age of 55ish).

    Since the majority of my church is made up of the Builder Generation, the collapse of the church is a real fear of mine. Also, even though we’ve gained a few (very few) new members (new Christians actually), they are years away from being leadership material. We’ve a good bit of discipleship work to do; so there are few replacements for the people we are looking to loose in the next 5-10 years.

    Tim Dahl

  7. wackypreacher Says:

    Tim, We are facing the exact same situation. Among the eight deacons we have five are over 70 years old. Of the other three, one is close to retirement. We have some new people, but only a couple of prospective deacons waiting in the wings. But they may not wait for much longer. Those five have been deacons forever and ever. Some for over 50 years.

    We are a predominately Builder Generation church. To their credit we are doing a number of out of the box stuff to reach people for Christ. They aren’t all stuck in the 50′s mindset.

    I would think yours and my church are typical of the churches in Texas. So I say that to say, many are in grave danger of sinking out of sight. But, that’s a huge BUT, God can turn things around if we trust Him completely.

    Bob Cheatheam

  8. Tim Dahl Says:

    Wackyp said:

    “…God can turn things around if we trust Him completely.”

    Good words, good words indeed.

    Thanks Bob.

    Tim

  9. David Says:

    People resist change (homeostasis), but systems (e.g., churches–which are non-primary systems)–according to open systems theory–are not hard to change.

    One well-placed influence can affect (thus, change) the entire system–and, maybe that is one very important/needed wisdom-part of leadership today (where–not just how–to influence the system incrementally so that the entire system is changed for the better over time). Check with the BGCT’s Missions/Evangelism/Ministry Team leaders and Congregational Leadership Team leaders for more info, I think.

  10. Tim Dahl Says:

    David wrote: “…but systems (e.g., churches–which are non-primary systems)–according to open systems theory–are not hard to change.”

    Interesting view. Where did you happen to come by this?

    Tim Dahl

  11. David Says:

    Tim:

    Generally understood open systems theory stuff. Do you have an email address I can forward info to?

  12. Tim Dahl Says:

    David,

    Yes. Please email: tim_dahl@hotmail.com

    or my church address: tdahl@fbclakeworth.org

    Thanks,

    Tim Dahl

  13. David Says:

    Tim:

    When I have access tomorrow morning, I’ll forward info I have–but again check with the convention’s staff, which should have the same.

    On the non-primary thing: (1) any purposeful people-group of any size (a married couple [1 man and 1 woman = 2 people] or a nation [China = 1 billion] is a social system (in the beginning, God created a solar system–when He began making people, He created social systems); (2) families are primary social systems (the existence of society is based upon families); (3) churches are not primary social systems (if congregations die, the families which compose them do not also die); (4) long-term positive effect in the church will require sustained long-term positive affect of the church’s families (seek to influence the lead-influencer of the family, who can/will translate the church’s message to his/her family; focus energies on that person, and the effect will multiply throughout the family and in the congregation); and, (5) everytime pastors talk about how their congregations either are or are not experiencing biblical growth, we really are talking about social systems–and often trying to defy the characteristics/needs of social systems but still see their existence sustained perpetually.

    That’s my understanding/explanation in a nutshell.

  14. Tim Dahl Says:

    Ok David, thanks.

    I couldn’t remember the definition between primary and non-primary systems. I looked in my hospital texts, and no mention; I googled, and again no mention. I thought families might be the primaries; but I couldn’t find any sources.

    One thing, that I don’t think I agree with you on; is when you said that the systems (church/non-primary) “…are not hard to change.”

    Theoretically, no system is hard to change. you only need one point of it to change, and then hold on until the system reaches another point of homeostasis around that one changed point. This is the same in primary, as well as non-primary systems.

    Now, my church is practically ran by the people. There is a business meeting every month, where the smallest stuff is “discussed.” We have other meetings where a lot of the same stuff is hashed over. No matter how I try to keep them on track, as to the reason for the committee, they always venture off. They are a small, intimate group; which means that everyone knows everything. It might be different in a larger, staff lead church, but here it is like an extended family.

    The difficulty in every system comes at the point (individual) of change. The system will naturally try to put it/him/her back in its/his/her place. These forces can be very demanding, which is the “hard” part of changing any system. I submit that changing a small church is not easy. But instead, it is very difficult to do the closeness of the relationships involved.

    Tim Dahl

    P.s. I once had a teacher that said what he thought to be an old Japanese proverb: “The nail that sticks up, is the nail that gets the hammer.” Kind of appropriate considering our conversation. :)

  15. Tim Dahl Says:

    Ok David, thanks.

    I couldn’t remember the definition between primary and non-primary systems. I looked in my hospital texts, and no mention; I googled, and again no mention. I thought families might be the primaries; but I couldn’t find any sources.

    One thing, that I don’t think I agree with you on; is when you said that the systems (church/non-primary) “…are not hard to change.”

    Theoretically, no system is hard to change. you only need one point of it to change, and then hold on until the system reaches another point of homeostasis around that one changed point. This is the same in primary, as well as non-primary systems.

    Now, my church is practically ran by the people. There is a business meeting every month, where the smallest stuff is “discussed.” We have other meetings where a lot of the same stuff is hashed over. No matter how I try to keep them on track, as to the reason for the committee, they always venture off. They are a small, intimate group; which means that everyone knows everything. It might be different in a larger, staff lead church, but here it is like an extended family.

    The difficulty in every system comes at the point (individual) of change. The system will naturally try to put it/him/her back in its/his/her place. These forces can be very demanding, which is the “hard” part of changing any system. I submit that changing a small church is not easy. But instead, it is very difficult to do the closeness of the relationships involved.

    Tim Dahl

    P.s. I once had a teacher that said what he thought to be an old Japanese proverb: “The nail that sticks up, is the nail that gets the hammer.” Kind of appropriate considering our conversation. :)

  16. David Says:

    Tim:

    Thanks for your reply. I agree with much of open social systems theory–and believe that it’s God’s idea, as seen on probably each page of the Bible. My comments above reflect my understanding of the theory, and that actually may be a misunderstanding of it! For the best info, keep googling (and, again, see the convention’s staff)!

    A thought about your “. . . No matter how I try to keep them on track, as to the reason for the committee, they always venture off . . .” part above: as I understand it, every social system (i.e., purposeful people-group) everywhere of any size/etc. must deal well each day with four main problems in order to see a brighter tomorrow. One of those problems is latency (negative; “motivation,” positive). In other words, while some among us honestly are lazy, 100% of us are designed by God to tend to latency–we “wind down” in physical, emotional, spiritual, etc. ways (this is one limitation God designed people to possess–apparently, a limitation which pleases Him; but He made compensations which, if we fully avail ourselves of them, “wind” us “up” again to continue to move forward; e.g., nighttime)–and to the previous condition (homeostasis).

    In our churches, talking (even “preaching talking”!) is not teaching, and listening isn’t learning (verified by years of educational research and plain old intuition). Our congregations only will be player-coached by someone (paid minister or layleader–preferrably both) continually to the next level of biblical growth–doing so addresses the latency/motivation problem and helps ensure our churches will see tomorrow.

    Again, that’s my understanding. Others have much better info, I’m sure.

  17. Tim Dahl Says:

    David,

    I agree with you on this one. Our teaching (even the preaching) tends to not be very effective. There has to be a better way.

    I’m probably not going to call the evangelism department anytime soon.

    As Marty Duren posted on one of his blogs, it seems that the game has changed so much that “getting back to the basics” is incongruent. I’m just not getting that from the “Building” right now…with the exception of John of course! That guy is on the cutting edge, the cutting edge I tell ya!

    Be Well,

    Tim Dahl

  18. David Says:

    Tim:

    Making transformed disciples occurs, not by accident, but intentionally over time. Preaching (“people-oriented discipling”) is a part of it, but can’t be the entire thing–as the pastor can’t follow home each individual (9 to 99 years of age!) present in order to make sure each one “got it”.

    Discipling is: (1) people-oriented (e.g., as in a large group setting like a worship service where preaching is done); (2) program-oriented (offering several Bible studies–commercially prepared or otherwise–per semester, but with no real strategy otherwise for discipling); (3) process-oriented (offering several Bible studies per semester, but targeted to the individuals who need what those studies are designed to do–with the intention of taking those same people through to the next discipleship level following and seeing them go on-mission with God; this is Rick Warren’s baseball diamond process); and, (4) person-oriented (mentoring; one-to-one disciple-making). Each approach has advantages and disadvantages; it takes some amount of each approach to make a disciple–and we each must be somewhat self-directed as well.

    If we must use primarily one, I prefer the process-oriented approach due to its intentional/strategic/each-person focus for making disciples. You and I experienced this while in high school (or were supposed to!). Educators had decided before we arrived there what a contributing member of U.S. society ought to know and to be able to do–and, if those educators were going to have to live next door to us, they were going to make certain that we became those citizens and didn’t get out of high school with those values/attitudes/concepts/skills! They took us through a process from day-1 of 9th grade to graduation from 12th grade. No individual among us was to “fall through the cracks”–in our churches, too few even get specifically targeted for discipleship to start with (we all fall through the cracks). Process-oriented is complicated because of its focus on each person growing spiritually, but the result can be all contributing members of the church and kingdom.

    Our CP contributions pay for access to the resources and resource people of the BGCT–I’m going to use those resources!

  19. David Says:

    I have no idea where the smiley face came from in my comment above!

  20. Tim Dahl Says:

    David,

    What resources are you using? Is there a particular curriculum that you’ve found very helpful. We’ve been using Lifeway stuff for years, like even when it was called the Baptist Bookstore, and there seems to be very little growth. I just can’t seem to talk my Sunday School people into trying something different. :(

    Tim

  21. David Says:

    Tim:

    I think it’s the process as much as the content. LifeWay’s materials can be helpful, but some are designed for believers at one point in their Christian walk and other materials are meant for believers at a different place in their walk. Assess who each group the material is designed for, then recruit folks at the same place in their Christian walks to meet together using those Bible study materials (results in 1-4 “transformational tracks” which facilitators and encouragers can walk with folks through, then “graduate” to the next “track”).

    For more on process, see: http://www.tnbaptist.org/pdf/disciple-making.pdf (and your email).

  22. Andrea Howard Says:

    Our church is one of those that is barely “hanging-on”. We are in the process of reconstituting the exsisting church in an effort to start anew. Most of our members are in favor of making necessary changes to revive the church. However, the small core group that we have has trouble committing and staying committed to serving in the church. Is there a way to get outside sources to help us? We are very much a mission project!

    Andrea :)

  23. David Troublefield Says:

    Andrea:

    If no connection has been made to follow-up your inquiry, permit me to point you to the BGCT Church Strategist serving your area (this webpage: http://www.bgct.org/texasbaptists/Page.aspx?pid=6240) or to the Director of Missions in your town/area (this webpage: http://www.bgct.org/texasbaptists/Page.aspx?pid=5885&srcid=6240). Either of them should be able to help your members speak honestly about the future of your church, and help the congregation prayerfully chart a course for the future. Don’t give up–almost all churches have a fantastic future if they simply will go with the Lord to claim it!

  24. John Says:

    Andrea, let me drop you an e-mail and we’ll see how we can best help.

  25. Evelyn Says:

    Dear John,
    What was your source for the fact you stated as your title: 1 percent of churches close doors each year?

    I clicked on the link for Religion News Service but it no longer exists.

    Thank you!

  26. John Says:

    Evelyn, I honestly can’t remember the source from the story. I’ll try to find it somewhere else and send you an email.

    John

  27. THE RISE AND FALL OF CHURCHES | Rivers Of Joy Baptist Church Says:

    [...] 1 percent of churches close doors each year. [...]

  28. effect affect Says:

    effect affect…

    [...]1 percent of churches close doors each year « We Are Texas Baptists[...]…

  29. Chicago pastor Says:

    May an ELCA (Lutheran) pastor from Chicago give her 2 cents? I read the post and many of the comments that followed and I am in solidarity with much of what was said. I am currently pastor of a congregation that is voting to close their doors. Really, this decision should have been made 15 years ago and in other ways they are making it 5 years sooner than they desperately need to.
    Please look at the story here: http://lettinggowithgraceandhope.blogspot.com/
    I am sharing the story because there are so few resources for pastors or lay leaders that want to begin the conversation of closing a congregation while being mission minded and faithful to the gospel.
    I can only speak from my very personal experience with this congregation and how they come to the point of close. I see a few reasons – some are due to family systems, some are due to refusing to change, some are due to the ministry not being able to connect to the younger generation any longer and there not being any kids in the congregation for at least 5 years, but much of it has to do with the lack of being a mission focused congregation. Over the years the mission has lost Christ being at the center and slowly it became self serving.It is now essentially a social club that comes to partake in a worship ceremony once a week. Outreach is about keeping the current members comfortable and there is no mention of Christ other than through the pre-written prayers for service. I realized early on that I was not called to the congregation to evangelize the community, but I had to begin by evangelizing the people sitting i the pews! Stopping the trend of closing congregations is not going to happen until we as clergy and faith leaders find ways to bring Christ back into the center of everything our congregations say and do. Everything we do needs to be followed with the question, “and how does that help me live out the Gospel? How does that point others to Christ?”
    Thanks for letting me give my 2 cents.

  30. hiswill Says:

    I have studied small congregations for many years. Mission mindedness is definitely missing in congregations under 50 persons.

    Small churches do not visit, and if someone is blessed enough to bring someone else into the congregation they don’t feel very welcome. The powers that be will let the visitor know that they are in charge.

    This may sound harsh, but I say this weeping with a broken heart.
    I think more and more churches will shut the doors as time passes.

    Many churches will not even evangelize their own community. When a pastor resigns the church another pastor will take his place and bring with him those who follow him. When he resigns the crowd will follow him once again, and it will leave the original ones that he started with.

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