Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Some Churches Need To Die!

Written by: on May 9, 2019

Some churches need to die! This sounds harsh, but it’s true.

The past 30 days, our Conference has closed 2 churches (out of 30). Both of these churches should have died! Thankfully, this year we planted one church and are being joined by up to three more…

My newest gauge for an “effective church” is simply this: If your church disappeared tomorrow, would it leave a gaping hole in your community? If there would be no gaping hole upon your disappearance, your church should die! Effective churches are making an impact for Christ in their communities! Ineffective churches somehow perpetuate unfruitfulness. Salt and light are commanded and observable, the absence of salt and light is inexcusable and are thrown away, or worse, burned.

Asked another way, if your church disappeared tomorrow, would anyone outside your church even notice? If the answer is no, your church is impotent and slow death is imminent. Why would God bless your church to continue? We aren’t supposed to be clubs or social centers; we are supposed to be hospitals for the sick and orphanages for the alone. Effective churches are vital to their communities!

BEING SMART ABOUT CONGREGATIONAL CHANGE, by Diane Zemke, PhD at Gonzaga University, illustrated well the life cycle of most churches:

“All living things have lifecycles. They are born (or sprouted), they grow, mature, age, and eventually die. We are all very familiar with this pattern and familiar with the effects time has on living things. This pattern occurs with non-living entities as well. Institutions and organizations are born as very small groups or even ideas. They grow and become larger and more influential. As time moves forward, their growth and influence plateau. Eventually, the organization or institution dwindles and dies. This death can be a take-over, a closing, or a sale, but the organization, as it was originally conceived, no longer exists.” [1]

Unfortunately, a rather large portion of the churches in my Conference are in plateau or decline. As a Conference Superintendent, I am humbled to see churches in all the life stages above—birth, growth, plateau, dwindle, death.
I think many denominations in America are the same as us. Fortunately, God through his Holy Spirit, revitalizes old bones, makes new paradigms, and reinvents local church vision.

Zemke had a section devoted to “economics” which is right up my dissertation alley. Finally, we have a stewardship bridge to my research, yippee. She states, “The economic times can affect how congregational members think about congregational finances. Do members worry over every last penny and argue over the price of toilet paper? Or do they take on debt and overspend? Those congregations founded with a Depression-era cohort, which had a similar economic situation as today, may struggle with spending for the life of the congregation. Alternately, those congregations founded when money was easier may face the world believing money will always be available. They may be more open to risk-taking but also struggle with meeting the bills even with good cash flow.” [2]

Let’s look into my two churches that just closed, from a financial perspective. I realize finances were not the problem, only a symptom of the problem. As the late Larry Burkett used to say, “How someone handles their finances is actually a spiritual indicator.” [3]

Church Y had over 60 people connected to the church, had some money in the bank, although offerings were in decline. Their mission statement talked about the importance of the Great Commission but 100% of their every dollar was spent internally. In fact, not a single penny was expended outside the four walls of the building. They had 7 people getting paid to do ministry for the church, but hardly anyone outside the 7 used their spiritual gifts serve others and live out the command “While you go, make disciples.” [4] when 5 of the 7 leaders got burned out and considered other plans, the church died. Gratefully, the church had a death with dignity after realizing their church had reached the end of their life span. They blessed another church with the residual finances.

Church W had over 100 people connected to the life of the church. A whistle blew and the check engine light came on, so we dove under the hood. Three weeks later the church was dead! We realized the church was like a house of cards, solely relying on the charisma of its leader. He was the most positive person on planet earth, but over promised and under delivered. They started a building campaign when the church was growing, but mis-spent $67,000 of designated funds. The Pastor signed authorizations to proceed with building, against the advice of his leaders, and without proper permits. I am currently writing off a $100,000 loss and have weekly meetings with several lawyers. It more than kinda sucks.

I so much appreciated Dr. Zemke’s thoughts on being “change agents” [5] and I am thankful for her words, “Business wisdom regarding change and high performance does not transfer easily or well into a congregational framework. Business wisdom must be adapted to a framework that lacks external motivation for change, is concerned about maintaining community over growth, and doesn’t have authentic metrics to measure success.” [6]

I also was immediately drawn to her book title about being SMART about change…[7] Thank you Diane!


[1] Zemke, Diane. Being Smart About Congregational Change. Kindle Edition. Spokane, WA: Createspace Independent Publishers, 2014. Loc 631.

[2] Ibid., Loc 132.

[3]Burkett, Larry. The Complete Financial Guide for Young Couples. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1993. 42.

[4]Barker, Kenneth L. Zondervan NIV Study Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008. Matthew 28:19-20.

[5] Zemke, Diane. Being Smart About Congregational Change. Kindle Edition. Spokane, WA: Createspace Independent Publishers, 2014. Loc 38.

[6] Ibid., Loc 324.

[7] Ibid., Loc 2.

About the Author

Jay Forseth

Superintendent of the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church. Blessed with 28 years as the husband of my amazing wife who I can't make it without. Now three of four in our family are attending University, but both my children are way smarter than me.

12 responses to “Some Churches Need To Die!”

  1. Mike says:

    You speak wise words from experience over the past 30 days. Produce fruit or die in other words. Seems like Jesus had a few words like that when he walked by the barren fig tree (Mark 11:12-14).
    I have sore bones for sure after running a route the past few days. Flying is much easier! I hear her loud and clear on the economics of ministry and how that blends into the theological metrics for a church. I am trying to get an electronic mission board for our church. Our church is pretty forward thinking, large overhead screen in the auditorium, sound and video team, etc. But changing anything on the walls of the church meets with lots of resistance for sure.
    Another book you might like for your research and managing your churches is How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins. https://www.jimcollins.com/books/how-the-mighty-fall.html He speaks of the “hubris” that overcomes well meaning, well intentioned, and otherwise faithful stewards of a church or ministry. I’ve watched it destroy several organizations. And guess what, it is spiritual warfare, right in front of them, but avoided, denied, and dismissed until they fall from grace and are shut down like you have had to do recently.
    Stand firm,
    Mike w

    • Jay Forseth says:

      Appreciate the recommendation Mike and I will get on that book. Well shared on your part. Thank you, and for reminding us of the reality of spiritual warfare.

  2. Kyle Chalko says:

    Great post Jay. Loved your opening. What an intense ministry you carry. It is rather shocking to see “some churches need to die”. it even sounds heretical at first! But I totally get what you are saying, and I think its an unforuntate rally. For those churches don’t die but just linger on, really slow down progress from the next change happening. In my tribe, many AG pastors have not saved for retirement well, so this is a real issue when pastors go to retire and accept a small church pastorate.

  3. Great post Jay, Your title grabbed me right away, and I couldn’t agree more. Too many churches limp along too long not making any impact in the community where it was planted. I love your definition of an effective church…”If your church disappeared tomorrow, would it leave a gaping hole in your community?” I would be afraid to find out how many communities would not notice if certain churches went away. So sorry you are having to deal with picking up the pieces of that corrupt leader, but I couldn’t think of a better guy for the job. Bless you on this difficult journey. Also, congratulations on finally getting some material in your area of research (grin).

    • Jay Forseth says:

      Thanks so much Jake! We missed you last week on the Zoom. I want you to know how much we all appreciate you and are thankful for you. Thanks for being our Brother.

  4. Jason Turbeville says:

    Thanks for the real life examples. I believe if more churches would see what has actually happened in other churches and take heed they may be able to move through changes easier. Thanks for the examples.


  5. Shawn Hart says:

    WOW Jay! I must admit, I am still not sure if I should AMEN your post or slap you in the face for it…LOL…not really. The sad reality is that I have seen churches that I too thought needed to die; however, it retrospect, I really just meant that in order to truly be the “Lord’s Church,” then they really needed to make some drastic changes. I talk about “understanding sheep…but those shepherds are starting to really irritate me.” Do we want to pray that God closes doors or opens them? Does a church have to see it and do it OUR way in order to earn the right to stay open. It is the strangest reality to see small churches that survived 100 years and megachurches that lasted 5. What determines their right to survive? I guess I get caught up in that whole “remnant” theology throughout the bible…sometimes God is doing great things with only a few people.

  6. Dan Kreiss says:


    Those are very tough words but I believe you are right that some churches do need to die. Not because they lack any meaningful for those that still attend but more than likely they are not making the significant impact to their community that they should be. I am sure in leading churches to come to this conclusion there is significant push back and a whole lot of hurt. That is understandable.

    There are many important insights in this text as she moves outside of what has become for many churches the mainstay model – the business model. Congregations share many similarities with businesses but also a whole lot of significant distinctions. I am glad that your denomination chose a superintendent that has a grasp on both worlds. Keep up the good work.

  7. Jay,

    As I read Zemke’s book, I was looking forward to reading your thoughts as a denominational leader. It’s fascinating what we consider thriving as the average church in Canada is between 60-100 attendees.

    Here’s a fascinating overview: http://www.intrust.org/Magazine/Issues/New-Year-2016/Religious-affiliation-and-attendance-in-Canada

    Finally, I was shocked to see a small congregation of 60 would have 7 paid staff! No wonder they couldn’t sustain themselves.

  8. Dave Watermulder says:

    Thanks for this post, Jay. I enjoyed reading about the practical examples of what this kind of SMART change could or would look like, at least in contrast to the examples that you gave. It seems like you are well-positioned in your role, getting to be part of the whole life-cycle of churches. Very cool!

  9. Greg says:

    I would take it a step further and wonder if the community is happy for the church to be gone….that might indicate that the effectiveness or influence it is having in the community.

    I know that everything has a life cycle but I can see how this can be extremely painful for church. I don’t envy Superintendents for they carry a heavy burden and (my perception from afar) often see the negative rather than the positives of ministries. I do hope you are also able to rejoice with the good God is doing. Blessing on your brother.

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