How God Uses Even Church Closures for His Glory
By Y Bonesteele
More churches closed than were planted in 2019 in the United States, according to a Lifeway Research study. Approximately 3,000 Protestant churches were started in the U.S., but 4,500 Protestant churches closed.
Using data analyzed from the Center for Analytics, Research and Data (affiliated with the United Church of Christ), a report from the International City/County Management Association predicts, “Over the 2020s, houses of worship in the United States will be closing like never before.”
The numbers are probably very similar across many parts of the world, especially after enduring the pandemic. A news article from the U.K. states, “The pace of church closures could accelerate as a result of financial losses caused by the pandemic,” and the Church of England may have lost the equivalent to $212 million, suggesting that “the number of parishes and bishops could be drastically reduced.”
It is sad to see a church close their doors, but many times, the people merge into other churches and may grow deeper in their relationship with God. I know this because this has been my personal experience.
Being a “Church Closer“
The joke in our family is that we are not church planters, but church closers. Three years into our time as missionaries in Spain, we made a decision to close the doors of our church in Madrid. We loved the church and the expats and English-speaking young adults coming in and out of our doors, but God continued to draw our hearts more toward the Spanish people in our neighborhoods, in our kids’ school, in our communities. For various benign reasons, our team had decreased to just us. So, we had to pivot our plans and after much prayer, did the unthinkable––closed our doors.In closing our church, we didn’t feel like we went outside of God’s plans at all. We knew that God sometimes calls us to different tasks and moves us where He wills. Click To Tweet
In Madrid, there were already a good number of English and Spanish-speaking churches in our area people could go to, so we directed folks to these churches. We decided to go to a Spanish church. We didn’t feel like we went outside of God’s plans at all, because we knew that God sometimes calls us to different tasks and moves us where He wills. And through the process, He taught us a few things as we reflected on closing our church doors.
Minister With Your Unique Skill Sets and Context
Our plan was never to have the biggest church or the largest ministry in Spain; our plan was always to faithfully join God in what He was already doing to glorify Himself and grow His kingdom, knowing He is sovereign to fulfill His plans. We knew at this point we needed to be very intentional about seeking the better things, not always the good things. What was unique to us, in who God made us, that could be used to make disciples in a post-Christian context? How can we strategically take on the Great Commission with the Lord’s direction?
Our lives already revolved around our kids’ school, so that seemed the best target audience to address. Our personalities were better suited for smaller groups and one-on-ones as well. We got involved in the Spanish PTA, started small group Bible studies, and did one-on-one discipleship. We networked with our Spanish friends, who were unfamiliar with volunteering, to help with anti-human trafficking safe houses. We did this while pointing friends to Christ and the good news of the gospel which made people ask questions.
“Why do those Americans keep helping our kids at school?”
“You say you serve because Jesus did. What does that mean?”
“We know Jesus because we’re a Catholic nation, but He seems to be central to your life. Why is that?”
“What does it mean to be a Christian?”
“I’ve never asked for prayer before, but could you pray for me?”
By freeing up more time, God expanded our influence among our Spanish networks. And God gets all the glory, not us, not our church. His name gets recognition, and His reputation gets lifted up.
Know That God Defines Success by Faithfulness
Just one community. Just one school. Just one family. Just one person. If it was just for that, it was worth it. God taught us that success is not always measured in large numbers. Success is not always how our culture defines it. Success is not always how others (even other Christians) tell us it should be. Success to God is defined by faithfulness to Him alone.Success is not always how others (even other Christians) tell us it should be. Success to God is defined by faithfulness to Him alone. Click To Tweet
Sometimes leaving the 99 for the one is needed. It may not be the norm or how church growth or church-planting is “supposed” to be done. But sometimes, God leads us in unusual ways to remind us that our plans may not be His plans, and His plans are always better. He allows us to join Him in His amazing work that all may see and know Him. And He simply asks us to be faithful in what He has given us. By closing our English-speaking church, we were able to lead our Spanish friends toward Spanish-speaking churches where they could thrive even better.
Focus on the Great Commission
God loves churches because He loves the gathering of His people. At the end of the day, however, the Church, the Bride of Christ, the body of believers, will always be more important than the existence of individual, specific churches. After experiencing a year of separation due to the pandemic, we can see that relationships in discipleship and evangelism trump buildings and programs every time. The Great Commission says, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Sometimes we forget this focus and add on our own agendas.
According to a Jesus Film Project survey on evangelism, Christians surveyed responded that, out of these five options––planting new churches in unchurched areas, direct evangelism, translating the gospel into languages that have never heard it, equipping people to share the gospel themselves, and providing humanitarian aid––“equipping people to share the gospel was their top priority (32%). The next ministry with the most votes was direct evangelism.” Translation and church planting came in at the bottom. For those surveyed, evangelism and equipping others to evangelize were more important than church planting.As ministry leaders and pastors, we must be a model ourselves by being in the community and equipping our people to do the same, instilling this God-given call and commission into their lives. Click To Tweet
Please don’t misunderstand me––church planting is needed and is extremely important. We cannot, however, rely simply on the “church” to take up the task of evangelism. As ministry leaders and pastors, we must be a model ourselves by being in the community and equipping our people to do the same, instilling this God-given call and commission into their lives. Let’s not create a culture that makes people overly dependent on their church to do the evangelism, where they themselves drop their individual responsibility because they think it’s the church’s role. We all, individually, have a responsibility and a call.
God’s kingdom will grow with or without our help, and it is always a privilege to join God in His mission. In our lives, He gives and takes away––that includes our churches. But sometimes God does that to teach us, or remind us, that He is sovereign and uses us, though He does not need us. And He uses us in unique ways because He knows us and is discipling us as we disciple others.Even in the midst of closed church doors, God is control of all things. Click To Tweet
His purpose and mission is to grow His kingdom and bring Himself glory, and in the process, He works for our good. So even in the midst of closed church doors, He is control of all things. And no matter the circumstances, His kingdom pushes forward and has ultimate victory––praise be to God!
Y is an editorial coordinator at Lifeway Christian Resources. She has her M.Div. from Talbot School of Theology with an emphasis in Evangelism and Discipleship.