By Jennifer Johnson
Several years ago I wrote a series of case studies for Kairos Legacy Partners that described their work with dying and declining churches across the country. Kairos works with these churches to evaluate their impact, their finances, and overall health and determine whether it makes sense for them to stay open as a congregation. If the decision is no, Kairos also works with those churches to help them “recycle” their facilities and financial resources in ways that can fund another ministry.
I’m a fan of Kairos and I appreciate its desire to honor the sacrifices of past generations and steward kingdom resources in productive ways. According to the book Legacy Churches by Stephen Gray and Franklin Dumond, about 1 percent of churches in America—or 3,000—close their doors each year. Every church has a life cycle, and if it’s a church’s time to “die,” it’s vital that its assets be protected and then used to bring life someplace new. I’m glad we have a ministry like Kairos.
However, talking with Dan Garrett at Journey Christian Church reminded me there is another option for churches unable to maintain a building or make the payments. Although many churches die because their membership dwindles, there are healthy churches with unhealthy debt—and the end of a mortgage doesn’t have to mean the end of a congregation.
“We didn’t see this as giving up, but as a next chapter,” Garrett said about Journey’s decision to sell its building, meet in a high school, and repurpose its money for outreach and missions. “Buildings aren’t bad, but they’re not the goal, either. They’re tools for ministry, and when they become a hindrance to doing the work we’re called to, there’s no reason to just hang on to them.
“Our financial reality was that we couldn’t keep doing what we were doing for five more years. At some point you have to decide you’re going to move toward mission instead of maintain real estate.”
I’m thankful for both the legacy vision offered by Kairos and the courageous leadership of Dan and his elders. Selling a building so you can thrive isn’t the solution for every church, but neither is closing a church so a newer congregation can flourish.
For a variety of reasons, this year thousands of congregations will face tough choices about keeping the doors open. Thanks, Dan, for the challenge to think creatively about the options.