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.” 
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.” 
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.” 
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.”  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”  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.” 
I also was immediately drawn to her book title about being SMART about change… Thank you Diane!
 Zemke, Diane. Being Smart About Congregational Change. Kindle Edition. Spokane, WA: Createspace Independent Publishers, 2014. Loc 631.
 Ibid., Loc 132.
Burkett, Larry. The Complete Financial Guide for Young Couples. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1993. 42.
Barker, Kenneth L. Zondervan NIV Study Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008. Matthew 28:19-20.
 Zemke, Diane. Being Smart About Congregational Change. Kindle Edition. Spokane, WA: Createspace Independent Publishers, 2014. Loc 38.
 Ibid., Loc 324.
 Ibid., Loc 2.