Three Options to Save an Endangered Church from Extinction

By Michael C. Mack

A cultural and economic storm threatens many small and midsize churches. “Unless we respond to this coming tsunami,” says Karl Vaters, pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California, “churches like mine will soon be as rare as printed newspapers, landline phones, and brick-and-mortar bookstores.” Especially churches in large metropolitan areas with a mortgage and a pastor’s salary to pay, will start to disappear over the next couple of decades, says Vaters in the fall 2015 issue of Leadership Journal.

05_BP_Endangered_JNCornerstone has experienced a turnaround in attendance, number of volunteers, and ministry over the past 15 years, but the church has had to do more with less each year. Several changes in the culture have brought about this new reality, including people’s financial realities, how much they are willing to give, and how they relate to God and church.

Vaters points to three things that won’t save these kinds of churches: church growth (not every church is destined to become big), teaching on giving (stewardship of what’s given is the bigger issue), and being relevant (being more real, contextual, and countercultural are more vital than being “cool”).

What might save these churches? Vaters gives three practical suggestions:

1. Pay off the mortgage. “Churches with debt won’t last,” he says. Choose practical methods of reaching and discipling people over extravagant buildings and programs.

2. Go bivocational. In years to come, many churches will not be able to afford full-time pastors.

3. Partner with other churches. Go-it-alone churches won’t make it. We need each other.

This trend may move churches back to a more biblical model, one that depends less on buildings and paid staff “and more on genuine community, discipleship, and direct reliance on God,” concludes Vaters.

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