Do You Believe in Life After Death? Part Two

Learn how members of struggling mainline Protestant churches may find closure.

Richey-Barrett Blog

Read practical suggestions for members of declining mainline Protestant churches.

Part One of this blog appeared last month. I introduced the subject of mainline Protestant churches in the United States struggling to survive. Part Two acknowledges that while many of these churches continue in a downward spiral, meaningful discussion and planning may result in life after death for some of the church’s resources. Remember to keep your insurance agent in the loop so that lay leaders can review and ask questions about your church’s insurance coverage.

Recall last month’s blog urged lay church leaders of mainline Protestant churches to engage in an objective evaluation of the sustainability of their church. The reason for this was to move people beyond either ignoring or merely talking about handwriting on the wall to using tangible information to guide them in prudent decision-making. If you objectively evaluate the information collected, you should have a firm understanding of where your church stands financially and what the patterns of regular giving, attendance, attrition, and youth participation over the last 2, 5, and 10 years suggest. Studying actual numbers in black and white often confirms what you already know, but are not addressing.

While life cycles vary for each individual church, there is no long-term viability with persistently low attendance, participation, and declining operating income. The sooner you take action, the more options available. Engage the congregation early on so that everyone is aware and able to participate in the conversation. Contact your regional conference and inquire if it facilitates a revitalization program to assist declining churches in need of renewal. You might also float the idea of merging with another church in your denomination, reducing staff, and perhaps even going to a part-time pastor or a shared pastor who serves more than one church. Some of these suggestions are not popular, and some may not be tenable. They do get a dialogue started with a focus on making practical changes.

The takeaway at this point is commitment to move forward, either with a legitimate plan for revitalization or a planned process toward closing. A revitalization program through your regional conference or denomination will probably require you to follow a well-defined process. Be aware that a vote against both revitalization and planned closure will likely result in death by denial or intransigence. CAUTION: Well before members vote on any motion, thoroughly understand your church’s constitution and bylaws and consider consulting a qualified attorney. Be particularly aware of what action may or may not trigger a return of assets, real property or otherwise, to the regional conference or denomination. For example, some denominations require proceeds from the sale of the church building revert back to the conference. Whatever the case, members should grasp the consequences of their vote before voting. Contact your insurance agent to advise any changes that may affect your insurance program, such as sale of property, closing of a school or food pantry run by the church.

If the energy for revitalization doesn’t exist, and members are not willing to consider closure yet, you can still take small steps toward life after death. Next, you might start concentrating on what areas of your church’s outreach mean the most to remaining members. Maybe your church supports Habitat for Humanity, a local food pantry, a shelter for battered women, a recovery center, or sponsors a family in need. Whether your church closes or not, these community programs still need financial and volunteer support. From love your neighbor to lend a hand, discipleship continues with or without a church building. The challenge is to get on with the next phase of life after death.

Compile a complete list of church assets. Thoroughly research and understand who or what owns these assets both before and after a church terminates. Consider consulting a qualified attorney. Depending on who or what has control of the church’s assets, you may be in a position to donate or repurpose some or all of them for specific uses that align with your chosen ministries. It will take time and thoughtful consideration, and maybe negotiation as well. Remind one another, “God loves a cheerful giver.”.

Remember, Richey-Barrett Insurance is a Trusted Choice Independent Insurance Agent for your church’s insurance needs in every phase of its life.


  1. Jeff Reitz says

    Excellent article.
    As one who has been a part of revitalization, renewal, merger and closure, this article addressed all of these scenarios very well.
    Thank you.

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