DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Call 911

Written by: on May 11, 2019

Nine-eleven is the universal number used in the United States when someone is in serious trouble, or in danger of dying. Sometimes people wait too long and try to solve the problem themselves only to later frantically call 911. The excuses for waiting are usually that people do not realize how close the person was to death. The lament is sometimes, if only we had called sooner.

Many churches today, including my own, are in danger of dying and no one is calling 911. Perhaps they do not realize how close to death they are since they have never seen a church die before. Diane Zemke in Being SMART about Congregational Change states, “People are familiar with the idea of a lifecycle, both for living things and for organizations. Yet what people often don’t consider is that congregations have lifecycles as well” (Zemke 2014, Loc. 640, Kindle edition).  If a church does not realize that it is at the end of their lifecycle, it has no way to reach out for help.  Aging congregations that are not growing and attracting new members to carry the torch become inwardly focused and resemble clubs more than churches. Sadly, as the older members die, the church/club begins to diminish.

Another reason the dying church does not get help is that it remembers its glory days when it was in great health and does not see themselves as they really are. Zemke states that the power of a narrative can prevent a church from living in reality or entering into what God would have for them in the future (Zemke 2014, Loc. 594). Just as many people do not take care of their health when it is fairly good becoming surprised by the rapid decline of their health, so the church which has ignored their decline rapidly finds they are in bad shape health-wise with the end quickly approaching.

My church is having its 125th anniversary this year, and a grand affair is being planned. Our church is still surviving because our Pastor has been creative in finding ways for money to come into the church and he is a man of prayer. Our church has been paid a monthly stipend because cell phone towers are in our steeple. Also, we have a rain garden on our property which gives us a rebate on our water bill. In addition to those things, we have two renters in our building, an elementary school which uses the building during the week and another church with member primarily from Guatemala which rents the chapel.

I do not have a crystal ball to tell the future, but if I was going by the books I have read about church growth and church death, I would believe our church is on the verge of death.  However, somehow our church survives. Our church is fiscally conservative and does not believe in carrying debt; this long-held narrative has helped our church. The school that rents our church has remodeled the educational wing paying for over $65,000.00 worth of improvements. At the end of this year, our previous renovation loan should be paid off, although tithes and offerings are at an all-time low. Many of the older members are bringing their grandchildren or grandnieces and grandnephews. Perhaps the difference is prayer.

Our church has a 7 AM prayer conference call Monday through Friday and around 20 people are on the call daily. This is about 20 percent of the active congregation since attendance is around 100 most Sundays. It may get discouraging at times in our church with all of the in-fighting, but maybe God wants this church on a hill to stay around a few more years. We may still need to call 911, but maybe we should continue to pray first.


Zemke, Diane. Being Smart About Congregational Change. CreateSpace Publishing, 2014.

About the Author


Mary Mims

I am a licensed and ordained Baptist minister and have worked with the children and youth for the last seven years. I have resided in the Washington, DC area for the last 30 years, but I am originally from Michigan. I am also bi-vocational and work at the US Patent and Trademark Office in the Scientific Library.

4 responses to “Call 911”

  1. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    I bless you and your prayerful hopes for your church and your church leadership. Zemke is correct, churches often do not realize that each of them is somewhere along the path of their own lifecycle. Your church apparently is doing an amazing job of continuing to provide ministry through creative income streams. I will be praying that God will lead you in your part of the future of your local church as well as your ongoing ministry future. Many blessings on your leadership and your faithfulness.

  2. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    I have to say I am impressed with the numerous ways your congregation has utilized your building to collect “space use” fees or as an avenue to provide additional income. Kudos for that creative and missional thinking!

  3. mm Sean Dean says:

    Being a church in the city is difficult. Our church faced a similar situation as yours did about 15 years ago. An old Baptist church and a dwindling congregation with an average age of about 75, the prospects didn’t look good. The church re-organized with the help of a local interfaith organization, found ways to make money off of the huge building and found a niche in the community. We now have a growing congregation in the city. Things looked dark for a bit, there were weeks my wife – the church administrator – didn’t get a paycheck, but a lot of prayer and creative thinking got us through. I have no doubt that the same can happen for your congregation. Thanks for your post.

  4. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    Thank you for sharing so vulnerably about your church’s situation Mary. It definitely sounds like there is life left in your crew! So my question isn’t so much about your church, but it makes me wonder if and when church’s should decide to finish well? When do we cling to the hope of renewal and when do celebrate well and close the doors? I’ve been in many areas where the because of how the community has changed, the former model (key narrative) and the building no longer attract and empower people. While the body of Christ continues to grow, can it be to God’s glory to close? I ask rather vulnerably as a pastor. Bless you on your journey my friend.

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