How Would You Like Your Church To Die?

By Ken Howard

How do you want your church to die?

I’m serious. It’s not a facetious question.

Trust me. Your church is going to die someday. Maybe not today or this week or this month or this year. Maybe not even this decade. But it will die someday.

God never promised any church that it would live forever.

Every church has a life cycle: it is conceived, it is born, it grows, it reaches stability, and eventually, it starts to decline and die. For some churches that cycle may take 300 years, for others it might take 30, for a few it might take 3.

Sometimes churches decline and die because they lose their purpose. Others decline and die because they fall out of love with their neighborhoods. Still others decline and because the communities in which they lie and move and have their being are declining and dying. 

Dan Edwards, Episcopal bishop of Nevada, educated me about church life cycles. Most churches in his diocese are in mining towns. Most of those towns became ghost towns after about 100 years. Most of the churches in those towns died with their communities.

And well they should have. But some continue to hang on by their proverbial fingernails waiting for a savior. But Jesus is about saving people, not about rescuing churches. As Dan once put it, “the church” all too often “shows up 20 years too late and stays 20 years too long.”

The fact is, your church is gonna die someday. Maybe sooner than you think. Maybe it’s already in decline.

The question is, “When the time comes, how will you want your church to die?… Faithful? Or fearfully?”

Fearful dying comes when a church denies its mortality – when it fears death and fights it tooth and nail into the grave. When a church dies in fear, it dies into oblivion, unlikely to be reborn in any form, because it has not laid the groundwork for rebirth.

Faithful dying comes when a church recognizes that its time is coming and prepares for its death. A congregation may see its time coming because the body of believers that comprises it realizes they have finished the work God has given them corporately to do. A congregation may see its time coming because it’s community is in decline and they know they must companion it into death.

Whatever the reason is that their time has come, once they recognized that fact and that reason, they can begin planning to die faithfully and courageously, in such a way that they become the mulch for new growth.

A congregation situated in a community in decline might choose to die sooner than later, and take their remaining endowment (if they have one) and the proceeds from the sale of their assets and invest it into a new missional work elsewhere.

Or such a congregation might decide to close its current location and relocate, in order to BE that new missional work someplace else.

An aging Anglo congregation situated in a community that is rapidly growing younger and increasingly Latino might choose to die in its current form, while cultivating a relationship with a startup Spanish-speaking congregation, unto whom they can bequeath their legacy.

Or a congregation in a different situation of decline may do something completely different.

The point is… When you answer the ONE faithful question, you will find there are many answers.