Last Will & Testament of Churches

Does your church have a will? What will happen to the church when the time comes to close the doors? No one wants to think about that; it’s too emotional. After all, this is the building where you were married, your children were baptized, your dad’s funeral was held, and your children ran down the halls despite your threats. This is a building full of emotion. So how do you make a rational decision about an emotional subject? The answer is, you don’t at the time. You make those decisions before it becomes overwhelmingly emotional.

Every church will close, and every church building will crumble. That’s a fact. Yes, there are some churches that are over a thousand years old, but most of those are historical structures (think cathedrals in Europe) that are tourist sites and thus get a lot of their funding from visitors (FYI, it costs money to get into St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in London but St. Peter’s in Rome is still free though donations are encouraged).

First Church, Jerusalem was pastored by James, the brother of Jesus. This guy, not one of the disciples, was so revered that he was elevated to be the leader of the most important church in the new group called The Way (aka, Christianity). To see how important James was, just read about the very first business meeting of the church (Acts 15) and that when James spoke, everyone listened and followed what he said. First Church, Jerusalem probably met in a home, albeit a house big enough to handle over 100 people. At some point the Jesus Movement became institutionalized with buildings and structures but early on, it probably met in a house. Here’s the kicker, we don’t know where that house is today – it’s somewhere under all the buildings currently in Jerusalem. Surely God would have saved the meeting place of First Jerusalem just to show everyone how important church buildings are, but God didn’t. That building is now rubble, somewhere.

If God didn’t save First Church, Jerusalem, He won’t keep your building and your church around till Jesus comes. So, what is your plan when the time comes? I urge you to think about it – and I mean “think.” When the time comes the decision will be so overwhelmingly emotional that most people will not be able to deal with the subject in a calm manner. That is expected, this is an emotional subject.

Put together a plan now to answer questions related to closing the church

  • How small will the congregation have to be so that the doors are closed?
  • How small will the budget have to be?
  • What options will be pursued prior to closing the church? Options include merging with another church; becoming a mission point of another church.
  • What will happen to the assets of the church?
  • Will you sell the building and grounds to a developer or donate the property to the local denominational governing body?
  • Will you take action before the buildings begin to deteriorate such that their upkeep means they are the single largest expense?
  • Who will originate the discussion?
  • Who will make these decisions? The trustees? The deacons? The church members themselves?

There are a dozen other questions to be asked of any congregation and a dozen other questions which are congregation-specific. I encourage every church’s leadership to have a well-thought-out and well-documented conversation now, while your church is in good shape. Then, when the time comes to begin a painful conversation, you’ll be ready to address this subject.


Lead On!