When Ending Is Just A Beginning

Written by Keith Doornbos
November 12, 2021

Many churches are having first conversations about the future of their congregation.  Those conversations often feel like the beginning to a sad ending.  What if, however, an ending is actually a glad beginning.

What if ending is just a beginning? I recently posed that question to elders discussing the completion of their congregation’s journey.  Many congregations are having similar conversations. David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, predicts that 20% of North American churches may close following the pandemic.  Kinnaman may be correct if his time frame is extended out to a decade.  For example, the CRCNA’s Church Order article 38-d suggests that churches with 45 or fewer active adults are at risk.  A quick review of the CRCNA’s 2021 Yearbook reveals that 20% of congregations are already near that threshold.  A similar reality exists in most historic denominations. Given this emerging reality, many churches are having first conversations about the future of congregational life.  Those conversations often feel like the beginning to a sad ending.  What if, however, an ending is actually a glad beginning. Jesus, himself, reminded us that new life emerges from dying (see John 12:23-25).

Here Are Several Ways New Life Can Emerge From Ministry Completion :

Option 1:  Death Births a Restart

Of all the options for new life this is the most desired and most difficult.  A restart demands an entire metamorphosis of a congregation’s DNA made possible only through a new vision, new leadership, new resources, new investments and new practices. [Example: Red Arrow Ministries, Kalamazoo, MI]

Option 2:  Death Births Nesting

Some dying congregations nest one or more faith communities in their building hoping they will, in time, become the primary on-site ministry.  Nesting congregations are often minority faith communities representing the neighborhood.  [Example:  Maple Ave., Holland, MI]

Option 3:  Death Births A Merger

Some congregations nearing the end of their life-cycle look for other congregations who share similar ministry style and similar missional passion with whom they can merge.  Mergers produces fresh energy, new resources, and expanded staff.  [Example:  Cedar Hill CRC, Wyckoff, NJ]

Option 4:  Death Births A Satellite

Becoming a satellite campus of a thriving congregation is one of the best ways of bringing a new beginning out of a congregational ending.  Becoming a satellite demands embracing new ways of being church. [Example: Lake Worth CRC, Florida]

Option 5:  Death Births A New Missional Possibility

Occasionally a church nearing the end of their ministry journey will choose to die as a church in order to be born as a mission.  For example, they may sell everything and move to into rented facilities in an “at-risk” location in the city.  [Example:  Family of Faith, East Kennewick, WA]

Option 6:  Death Births Multiple Kingdom Blessings

Some completing congregations bring new life through multiple kingdom blessings.  They sell everything and distribute all financial resources in support of various kingdom causes.  Members are dispersed to new missional opportunities. [Example:  Millbrook CRC, GR, MI]

The Center for Church Renewal, in partnership with Barnabas Foundation, has a new Legacy Project that helps congregations evaluate their best “next step” options.  An introductory brochure can be viewed here and here.  Please contact us (hannahr@churchrenew.org) if we can assist.

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