Why Local Church Doors are Closing: We Are Doing Too Much and Need to Do Something Different


Image by Rusty Parks

I would wake up in the morning thinking about the day before and dreading my day to come. I didn’t want to meet people. I didn’t want to teach anymore, or give advice. I didn’t want to answer questions. I didn’t even want to spend time with God. I just wanted to sleep; sleep or watch television. I was done.

After preaching, this is often how I would feel. My wife probably knows my patterns like clockwork now. It had nothing to do with me doing things in my flesh, because I was “pressing into the Lord.” It was because I was functioning outside of my gifting, and my desire.

I know many of you can relate to what I am saying. I frequently hear many of my fellow co-laborers say how they are burned out, or close to it. They say they are doing too much, and they hate it. We start talking about width and depth in ministry, and they describe themselves as forgetting the definition of what depth looks like. They are passionate. I am passionate. However, we are hitting our walls. Leaders are cheating on their spouses. They are stealing money from the Church. Disciples are not being made, and Church doors are closing all over the world.

We are trying to be the hands and feet of Jesus while giving with crushed forearms and walking on broken legs.

We, the Body of Christ, have created an environment of Church and discipleship that burdens the few, and we feel comfortable with doing it. We have taught generations that it is “ok” to not know our calling in gifts and leadership. We have taught people how to sit and listen, without ever responding. We have taught followers of Jesus how to feel safe in a Church which is barely functioning, and ready to fall apart at any time.

First things first:

For me, it wasn’t until recently that I was really challenged to think about my role in the Body. I wish it had happened sooner. Why? Well, when we understand our roles in the Church, we begin to desire to function in our calling. We start to understand our identity in Christ, and we realize that we are drawing closer to Him as a result. (I will point out what the Bible says happens to the Church a little bit later).

When is the last time you have been challenged? Have you asked yourself what your spiritual gifts are? Are you an apostle, prophet, evangelist, teacher, or pastor? (Ephesians 4:11) Did you cringe when you read that list? “Did he just write apostle, or prophet? Is this guy charismatic? Is he one of those people?” Or perhaps you said, “Amen brother. I am an Apostle, it says so on my business card and in my Bible.”

What has happened:

There are many churches, which have completely missed the mark in this area, for various reasons. Probably more reasons than I can say in 1,000 words, but I have a feeling you can pick them out. There are also some churches, which have almost “got it” in some sense. They are doing Myers-Briggs testing, and spiritual gift tests. They are talking about leadership, equipping, and training. Unfortunately, for many of these churches the culture is not set up to support the opportunity for people to grow in their specific gifting. There are also some churches that feel comfortable with the spiritual roles. Unfortunately, often times, they are too focused on the title and not the responsibility behind it.

Why has this happened:

I believe it has happened because we have become caught up with the wrong things. We have completely lost the meaning of what a biblical leader looks like, and what healthy ministry looks like. We have allowed the world’s perception of the Church to taint what God says the Body of Christ is.

I also think it is because there has been so much of an emphasis on certain leadership roles that we have submitted ourselves into an unhealthy, unfit Church. Unfortunately, I don’t know what came first here, the chicken or the egg. I am not sure when it happened or for how long it has gone on. I just know it has happened, because for all the churches we have, there is little fruit.

Our foundations and our definitions are all messed up; that is why we are doing too much, spreading ourselves too thin. As a result we are only doing part of the discipling and equipping. We are leaving parts out. We are afraid to say “no.” We are afraid of the Body rejecting us. It may even be more personal than that. Maybe we are enabling each other to sin corporately so we will feel better about our sin. I don’t know.

How God can fix it:

A few articles back I wrote about the relationship that Paul had with the Ephesians. (Put the link). Not only was it strong, it was long-lasting. Can you imagine having three years with Paul? (Better yet, can you imagine three years with Jesus?) So the letter to the Ephesians is what I look to when I start looking at how Paul approached discipleship, leadership, growth, admonition, and encouragement. I will let Paul do the talking here because I CAN NOT say it better:

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”
In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,

Why did he do it?

to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

What happens as a result?

so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. — Ephesians 4:1-16

THEOLOGY21 is a co-op of authors dedicated to renovating theology for a new generation, taking the ancient truths of scripture and theology and speaking to the post-Christian culture of the 21st century. To keep up-to-date on all things THEOLOGY21, Give our Facebook page a “like”, follow our twitter page, add yourself to our email list, or subscribe to our feed!

  • Dude check out the book… “Already God: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it” by Ken Ham & Britt Beemer with Todd Hillard…. This book has some many stats that go right along with what this post is all about!!!

  • What bothers me is that some 3000 churches’ doors close every year. The churches that are prospering are mega-churches which gather together. Still more people feel no compulsion to go to church at all. And more and more “church leaders” fail as leaders—either from burn out or from moral failure. 

    I am reading this book which has been a incredible blessing and is right up your alley. The book is called “Leaders Who Last” and is propelled by the statistic that 70% of pastors fail and only 30% finish well. Anyone can start the raise well. Here is the link. http://amzn.to/l6giVZ

  • Gimme the jist of the book.  If you could summarize their point, what would it be?

  • I shall say this and it might sound overly simplistic, but consider:

    Perhaps the reasons “church doors” are closing is because they really weren’t in-line with what Jesus said His Church is all about.

    His Church.  Not ours.  Never ours.  Yet, even in this small town of mine, (Bethel, CT), there are over 13 churches to choose from.  13?  How is this possible?  I mean, again, not seeking to be so simplistic, but doesn’t The Scriptures tell us:

    Ephesians 4:1-6, Colossians 1:18-20, Romans 12:4-5, Romans 15:5-7, and of course, Ephesians 4:11-16

    Mega-churches and seeker-sensitive churches and social-activist churches and so on and so on may indeed swell in attendance and in “members”, but popularity is no indication of The Spirit, is it?  Of course not.

    I strongly believe in casting down our denominational labels, stripping off the handcuffs of said denominations, and simply return to a more civilized Book of Acts mindset wherein we are once again followers of The Way.

    No national charters.  No well-worded “vision statements” or more in-church programs than 20 YMCA’s can put forth.  Let us just be The Church, and discontinue being ‘a bunch of churches’.

    Church doors are closing?  Is it any wonder?

  • Hey Donald, thanks for your comments.  You are not being overly simplistic.  You are simply understanding one of the points I am trying to make, without me saying it in one sentence.  (I have a imaginary quota of words I need to write).

    I do not believe that there is only one reason why the Churches are closing.  I suppose that there are many reasons.  For example, I am sure that many of the closing are a result of God’s jealousy for His children.  My guess is that the statistic that Jonathan pointed out may include Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and other groups that “our” circles would not consider “Christian.”

    Jumping to your next point- The verses you listed are amazing in pointing out the exact heart of God towards the Church.  However, it does not say “you have to be one Church.” The Bible says that WE ARE one body, one church, under His headship, etc; this Truth does not hinge on how poorly we reflect the Truth.  It exists despite ourselves.  (Which is what you are pointing out).

    However, culture, socio-ethnic background, age, sex, geographical location, income, (plus many other things), can contribute to where a person feels comfortable worshipping God.  Therefore, we do have denominations.  We are still one Body, irregardless of the expressions of our adoration for God, (or how we act towards one another).  We can see that throughout the various letters to the early churches.  Each one was in their own place, and some were healthy… others not so much.  

    The cool thing is that because God is a God of reconciliation, I do not believe that He wants these “churches” to flounder.  I think He wants to reconcile His people in them; in the context that they are trying (or pretending) to reach out to Him.  So I try not to stop at the why or how come.  I try to look at how God says He wants to reconcile and build His Bride.

    Denominations (or expressions) are not sinful.  It is what is done with those denominations.  (Remember Paul talking about him versus Apollos, versus Peter, versus Jesus and telling people it exists, but stop worrying about it?)  It was a reality even then. 

    I do think that growth is one of the many signs that a Church is healthy.  But the numbers I refer to have nothing to do with attendance.  It is all about discipleship.  How many people does the Church have in active discipleship?  That is what I want to know.  (And usually I like for people to define what discipleship is… because chances are, my definition is a bit different).

    I will not pretend to suggest that I know even a touch of what God has in store for His Church.  But I do not desire to be like the Pharisees that could tell the weather, but could not tell the spiritual climate.  Things are moving and shaking.  God is doing something in His body of believers that is revolutionizing the Church.  It is reformation out of jealousy.  God wants us.

    Here are some of my other thoughts about all of this.  It will maybe give you a more complete picture of where I think God is going with the Church.  A least in my eyes, in my context, where He has me.




  • Anonymous

    I think Donald has a point here: “let us just BE the church.”
    And Shaun, I like what you’re saying: “WE ARE one body … despite ourselves.”

    But then if you’re saying (and I’m not sure you are) that Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, seeker-sensitive, mega-churches, and social activists are all not quite a part of the “Christian” Spirit, a part of the Body of Christ, then doesn’t that make us part of the problem? Isn’t it then our limited vision that is the problem and not the fact that churches are closing?

    What if we were more inclusive? What if we stood more for religious (Christian) pluralism and less for sectarianism? Wouldn’t that make life better?
    I mean, it wouldn’t necessarily stop churches from closing down, but it would stop us from seeing The Church as “in deep peril” or “thoroughly off-track” or something. (in other words, I’m suggesting, just because people stop going to a certain building, doesn’t mean there’s a problem with the Church in general.  You know what they say: The times, they are a-changing.)

    What do you think? Does that make sense?

  • Shaun,

    Thank you for the lengthy reply.

    I would say, however, (since I am stubborn-minded), that you and I have lived in a culture where there have been many denominations.  And look at us now.  Your article attests to the fact that we have screwed something up.

    Consider then, the Church of our King.  After Pentecost, She got started.  Book of Acts.  (You know all this, already…not seeking to patronize you)  No denomonations.  A movement, a cause, a family, a Church.  The Way.  We were called as being a sect. 

    So you and I have never experienced this.  We have only known religious intentions of man-made doctrines and the formalized wholesale dissection of the Church for the sake of comforting labels and “cliques”.

    I am a son, first.  I am a slave.  I am redeemed.  I have no denominational affiliation nor mindset.  To see my church, one only needs to consult The Scriptures.

    I did wish to say that your reference to Apollos, Peter, Paul, etc, was a solid one.  Yet, I do not understand why you would say that these men all birthed denominations because of their station.  I believe Paul was using the reference to Apollos to strengthen the mindset of the relationship he had with Timothy, as a spiritual father to a spiritual son.

    But now I’m rambling, and I apologize.

    Again, Shaun, thank you for your lengthy response.  I appreciate your insights and candor.

    Blessings to you and yours in Jesus’ Name.

  • jcoleman13,

    Indeed, the times they are a-changin’.  But Jesus remains the Same.

    There is no new face to The Church, no new revelation, no new flavor-of-the-month.  We would like there to be, so we can feel as though we are relevant, but it is a false sense of belonging.

    I am non-emergent, jcoleman13.  I do not believe Jesus needs a makeover to be more attractive to a generation of self-entitled phone-texting Twitter-using loiterers in the local coffee shop.

    I surely do not accept the false Jesuses of Mormonism or the JW’s.  Have you read their beliefs?  Yikes!

    Having said all this, I do appreciate your opining so freely to me.  It seems we might be in disagreement, here.  *shrugs* These things happen.

    Blessings, jcoleman13, in Jesus’ mighty Name!

  • I like dialogue.  That should be my new facebook status. Lol.  So don’t worry, you aren’t stubborn.  We are just batting around some stuff that God is revealing to us out of His Grace.

     I am not necessarily suggesting that denominations are what messed things up.  I am suggesting that we have become good at “doing” Church, but have become very poor at making disciples, raising up leaders, and enabling them to replicate it.  Also, many of our leaders are pouring out all the time, and have no one in their lives that is pouring into them, and discipling them.  THIS is why I think many churches are struggling.

    As I have said, I agree that the Church is One. However, if you start studying the different letters to these Churches, as they were planted and developed, it is obvious that each Church had its’ own problems. 

    I  am not suggesting that Paul pointed out Apollos, Peter, Jesus, etc. birthing denominations as a result of their ministry.   In the early church we can see that people in those Churches naturally identified themselves as “disciples” of the person teaching them.  I think this is completely natural.  (Even on your website you talk about being a spiritual son of someone).  At the most basic level we are all in part results of both our environment, as well as our nurturing.  In my mind, what Paul is pointing out is that their “division” was creating the opportunity for disjointed minds and thoughts. (THIS IS WHAT HE SAW AS THE PROBLEM).  The division he was referencing was their arguing, and he is trying to get them to reconcile themselves before God, so they would be united in mind and thought.  And since he was writing to the Corinthians, and to ONE Church, they were supposed to be united because they were the reflection of the Body there in Corinth. 

    In a larger scale, if we think that we are ONE BODY, we can agree to disagree, and still be united in mind and thought about: God, who Christ is, the great commission, etc.  That is what Satan is trying to prevent.

    On a more personal level- I could care less what denomination anyone is.  If you are focusing on CHRIST, making disciples, studying the Word of God, raising up leaders and enabling them… I truly think things will naturally gravitate to what the Church is supposed to be.  That is why I am big on missional communities.  

    Which brings me to the finale (HA).  You wrote, “So you and I have never experienced this.  We have only known religious intentions of man-made doctrines and the formalized wholesale dissection of the Church for the sake of comforting labels and “cliques”.”

    My brother, I am experiencing what it means to be a movement, cause, family, way, Church.  I can honestly, without a doubt, say that I am.  My hope is that I can impart a little of what God is doing here, and be a part of the reconciliation process in the Western church.

    Again, thanks!  And blessings on this awesome journey that we get to be a part of!

  • Shaun,

    “We are just batting around some stuff that God is revealing to us out of His Grace.”

     “I am suggesting that we have become good at “doing” Church, but have
    become very poor at making disciples, raising up leaders, and enabling
    them to replicate it.  Also, many of our leaders are pouring out all the time, and have no one
    in their lives that is pouring into them, and discipling them.”

    Shaun…wow.  Have you been reading my journal?  You have just opened up the main vein in my personal theology which centers around The Fatherhood of God, the Sonship of Jesus, (and our sonship per Romans 8:15), replicating it amongst ourselves, and discipleship.  Again, wow.

    You ended your comments with a teaser about a movement you are part of.  Were you directly referring to this blog, or is there more to the who and what you are, Shaun Wissman?

    El Elohe Israel, indeed!

    Donald in Bethel, CT

    And yes, my friend, I do have a spiritual father named Jim McNally.  Thank you for taking the time to at least view my blog to ascertain such information.  Bonus points for such diligence!


  • Lol.  It’s the spiritual climate man… God is doing something amazing here on earth.  WE aren’t the only ones that are talking about this stuff.  (Which is very exciting to think about!)

    As far as the movement-  I think we are finally experiencing what the Body looks like, and it is transitionally expressing itself in community.  We are pursuing missional community living.  For US, we can’t imagine doing anything else.  

    We are missionaries in Peru, and we are in the process of learning a ton, and trying to be faithful to what God wants us to do.  The things we know now is that this has been our DNA for a while, like my mentor explains to me… it is now we finally have the vocabulary to teach and express what God is doing in our lives.

    I re-read my old journals and it is amazing to see what God is doing in our lives… TO see how dreams are becoming realities before our eyes.  Things that were passing thoughts are coming to fruition before our eyes.  It’s hard work… but we try to lay the weight square on the back of Jesus.  (Because He tells us we can).  If you want to know more… hit me with an email!!!!

  • Shaun,

    Just a quickie:
    Do you think there are Peruvian missionaries in America right now?

    A topic for later, perhaps.

    I have enjoyed the dialogue, Shaun.  I am looking forward to more, truly.

  • Maybe.  But I am not quite sure that they are doing what we are doing.  However, I do think that God is bringing missionaries to the WEst so some old ideas can die, and people can see how God is moving around the world.  

    I enjoy it too.  My email can be found under the authors section, or you can find it on our ministry website.  Feel free to get more in depth with me over your questions!



  • Christians often blame themselves for the Church becoming weak, or liberal, or smaller. Don’t. Blaming yourself makes one at least feel in some form of control – “If only we would pray more / surrender everything better / evangelized more insistently” – no, it’s not like that. Here is the truth: The church is going down, because it has lost relevance. It’s a wider process – there is nothing you can do about it.

  • Hey Alexei-

    I don’t think the Church is going down, because it has lost its’ relevance.  I have a feeling that you are really suggesting that God has lost relevance.  Even though I am taking a stab in the dark… the room is actually dimly lit.  Just checking out your website and blog, it is obvious that we are coming from two completely different foundations.  

    I think many would like to argue that the Church is dead.  That God is dead.  I know differently.  I see God refining us like we do with gold.  It is a process, taking out the things that will allow it to become the purest form.  

    That refining is done by looking at ourselves honestly.  By praying.  By surrendering ourselves for something different to happen.  By recognizing who Jesus is, and living in that understanding.  By reflecting who He is in every moment, and seeking forgiveness when we don’t.

    It’s a process that is completely alive, and completely relevant.  

  • Hi Shaun. No secret – I stand by atheistic background. I did not want to say that, because that would whatever I say irrelevant. I was not going to troll or anything. Just wanted to say, that there is no reason for a christian to blame himself. Yeah on one side I see people say things like “God does things, it’s his Holy Spirit, nothing of us, let’s not be upset.” But on the other hand, I constantly hear people say “It’s because we…” – say, dont believe enough  or don’t pray well enough, etc.

    But what I see – is like, come on – you believe – why not enjoy it? Religions, atheism, other ideologies – are a part of global happenings, trends in thought, economy, politics, sociology. People have answers to the questions they didn’t in the past. People can cure diseases they couldn’t. People are better off economically – and hence, feel a better control of their lives. Internet is breaching the walls. Small closed communities, religious groups. So, small churches are closing. Nothing to blame fellow believers or yourself for.

    I did not want to start a discussion and hope have not offended the readers.

  • Yeah, I appreciate your response!  I don’t think what you say is irrelevant.  I hope that others won’t either.  I appreciate your objective position here.  You are looking at it from the outside and saying, “just enjoy it.”  I think that is exactly what the Bible talks about with having “joy.”  And letting God carry the burden for us, because He says He will.  All we need to do is let Him do it by showing Him willingness.

    What I am really trying to point out to everyone, whether the Church is big or small, we need to change our focus.  Just as en economist, politician, sociologist, business professional, etc. looks at what is going on and looks at where things are coming undone, or where things are off-focused, the goal is to fix what is going on.  

    It is about equipping people in their gifts, getting people in the right places, and allowing people to function in what they are “gifted in.”  The cool thing is that God has helped us by providing steps, and guidance through the Bible, intimate prayer, and relational communication amongst fellow believers.

    I think I am pointing out something that is happening, but I am hoping that this article can be used as a tool to begin the reconciliation process because there is a purpose for big and small.  We need to do things that allow for us to have joy as a body of believers.  More importantly that the final end result is that we are functioning all together, big and small, and we are doing it in complete love.  

    I appreciate your thoughts, and outside perspective.  You have not at all offended me, but rather you have given me a light into your mind for just a moment.  Thanks for that!

  • Chicago Pastor

    As a pastor of a congregation that will have it’s last worship service this summer and will be dissolving as a congregation I guess I just wanted to post with a few of the reasons my congregation voted to close it’s doors, a mainline protestant denomination congregation.
    First, the congregation lost it’s way. It became so focused on maintenance – the building, the individual friendships, the parties… that Bible study, mission, have a congregation centered on Christ and God’s love for all really became almost not necessary for them any longer. Second, the congregation aged and they were no longer relevant to even their children to stay in the congregation. Not religion, many of my members children do go to church, but some place else. They consider my congregation their parents church, it doesn’t feed them. Ans, this meant that with an average age of 75 it was a lot of work to start up a Sunday School, or a mission project… Third, the congregation looked nothing like the rest of the neighborhood. In on sermon I asked them if they wanted to be a historical relic for what the neighborhood use to look like? At one meeting when we were discerning close a guest pastor asked what we needed to do so we could begin to loke more like the makeup of be neighborhood and one of my people said, in all seriousness, “we have to get rid of the Mexicans in the neighborhood” – well, first, the people in the neighborhood are from Central American countries and second, they moved into the neighborhood over 25 years ago. Fourth, They did not have strong leadership and they were allowed to created very unhealthy habits and ways of operating a congregation. They were without a pastor for 5 years and the way they ran the church became very incestuous, but it was how they survived. It was hard for a young woman to come in and clean house. The last one I will share is that my congregation would rather close than change. They said this very phrase. My denomination offered them redevelopment. A process where they bring in a pastor that is trained at revitalization and outreach, the wider church pays the salary and pays for missional outreach, but the congregation has to give up power and control. There is no more governing body that makes decisions. My congregation voted to close and did not vote to go through this process. There are some other smaller reason, but these are a few of the major ones. Unhealthy inward focused congregations have to close. It’s for the sake of the future of the Church, and it doesn’t matter the denomination. My congregation is closing and giving all its money to start up congregations – they are finally being mission minded, but it is in their death that they are able to give new life.
    I would like to share my blog experience of this process. It explains my journey as a pastor through his process. you can read about the discernment that got to the vote, some of the history of the congregation and how even now, after the vote, it is still a struggle to see the hope in Christ for many people.
    Please pray for these struggling congregations. Help them know that maybe with healing and a sense of renewal they too can be mission minded and that maybe the best way to do this is to close as a congregation. It is not a failure, in fact, it is probably the biggest step of faith a congregation can take.

Please support the site
By clicking any of these buttons you help our site to get better
Social PopUP by SumoMe