When a Church Closes

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God was calling us to complete one more difficult job: close the church.

The solemn yet resolute group of church members gathered in a small meeting room in the basement of their church. They were prepared to cast their votes for what might be the final ballot item in their church’s history. The gravity of the moment was not lost on anyone. A council member presented the facts. It was time to vote on the dissolution of their church. A motion was made. Someone seconded it. Ballots were cast.

All but one member voted for closing the doors of their church. There were no hard feelings against the one hold-out member. Enough finger pointing and tongue wagging had occurred throughout the past months. The group was beyond the “Have you tried this?” and “Maybe if we hadn’t done that” discussions. They were prepared to stand united. It was time to do what had to be done.

If anyone had told me that I would be one of those folks who voted for the dissolution of a church, I would have vehemently protested. Yet there I was, casting a vote for the very thing that I believed should never happen. Despite years of struggle, dedication, and commitment, my church was going to stop existing. The signage would come down. The website would be disabled. Services would be phased out. Members would be forced to find new church homes. Not a pretty picture. Not a pleasant task. But it was the task we were called to finish.

Our church plant had struggled for 15 years through good and bad times. Many of us had volunteered in multiple positions throughout the years—praise team singer, Bible study leader, sound system operator, council member, nursery helper, worship planner, custodian, secretary—and yet we felt that we had not done enough to keep our doors open.

It was easy to feel disheartened and discouraged as we struggled with multiple challenges: a leaky roof during one of the wettest years on record, an air conditioner that went out shortly after we purchased our first real church building, the economy sinking, pledges unmet. It became difficult to attract and keep new members as our numbers dwindled.

And yet God was calling us to complete one more difficult job: to close the church. Our beleaguered little group leaned on each other. And as the strength of God flowed through each of us, we waited for his leading. God, in his infinite wisdom, knew exactly who was needed to meet this final challenge. The very characteristics that may have seemed inadequate in another context were just what we needed now to get the job done. The sale of the building was orchestrated. Final services were planned. The building was reorganized for new owners, and lots of coffee was consumed as we muddled our way through desperate times.

Our final service was held on a beautiful October day. We called it a “Celebration of Ministry,” and we were ready to praise God one more time together. There were tears of sadness, grief, penitence, and thankfulness as we reflected on our journey together in ministry. The Spirit of God was a soothing balm to our souls.

Despite the pain of losing a church, there were unexpected blessings as well. The sale of our building enabled us to contribute to other ministries in our community and around the world.

It’s good to remember that our place in the kingdom of God is just a speck in the flow of eternity. And whether we are starting a church, closing a church, or maintaining a church, to God be the glory.

About the Author

Gay DeJong is a middle school science teacher for the Sioux Falls School District. She and her husband are seeking a new church home after being members of Heartland Community Church from its launch until its closing.

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To look into the tear filled eyes of those who bravely discuss the closing of a church where births, baptisms, professions of faith, joys, suffering, and funerals of loved ones have taken place is a heartbreaking, only defined as a grace empowered time.  Often one question that is whispered- "what will be our legacy?"  As Reformed Christians we recite the HC Q/A 1...hanging on to the words, savoring the comfort that results from memories and the words cherished in that Q/A, believing with our hearts that God is faithful.  Then we journey on together- departing members of a congregation, a minister, a Classis, a denomination; with confidence that each day that is to come will be grace filled with opportunities of praise to a loving father in heaven whose strong arms embrace us and enable us into the unknown and unchartered.  That is the love of God, the promise of Easter.  That is faith.

I could not find this church in the 2013 CRC yearbook and the article did not clealy identify the location of this church plant. Closing a business, a charity or a church is always difficult. In the case of a church plant, I would hope that as part of the due dilligence to establish one, some criteria would be set that, if not met (in maximum 5 years,) would force a serious review to close. If this is not done emotions take over and closure could drag on for 15 years or more.  In cases like this the economic questions are often not honestly and realistically faced. Selling a building and donating the money is only one side of the equation. How much did the Classis or HM (net of Ministy Shares) pay to keep this church going over the 15 year span of its life? Closing a church should never be a blame game. Stewardly action is called for.

Thanks for posting this article. I'm reminded of a song that says, "every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end". It's a building that closed, and an organization that ceased - the church, the people and the fruit of the ministry, remain and will continue to grow in new contexts. Amen, to God be the glory.

Like the writer and her husband, my wife and I know the sorrow of deciding to disband a church. We look back on sixteen years of ministry with the knowledge that many lives were shaped and changed and several entered the kingdom because of a place called Hope Fellowship. We were a family of 'orphans,' far from original homes, families and churches. But we had an adopting Father and his Son who bound us together. So when there seemed to be no more hope and the fellowship was down to a single small group - the very way that the church began - there was grief along with the woulda' coulda', shoulda's of which Gay writes. I am grateful, no matter how painful the disbanding was, that I became a different person while part of very wonderful group of believers. I will not comment on the use of classical or HM funds. The whole experience taught me how to give sacrificially, not counting cost.