Two things matter the most in real estate: location and timing. We lived in San Diego during the housing bubble of the late 2000’s. Prices went down as fast as they had gone up. If you had bought at the wrong time, the results could have been devastating.
As a result of the bubble breaking, a flood of foreclosures came on the market. Real estate agents began organizing “foreclosure” tours, renting buses and driving 10-15 investors around. Criminal minds found ways to scam the system. Entire cul de sacs were left vacant with perhaps one house still occupied.
When a house goes into foreclosure, it’s much more than just a financial matter.
It’s about memories of dinners and games and birthday parties. It might have been the living room where a child took their first steps. The walls held more than pictures; they held stories.
The same is true when a church goes out of business.
It’s not a simple matter of shuttering a building, changing the locks, and moving on. It’s also about memories. Those walls hold stories, too. Weddings and funerals. Baptisms. Answered prayers. Mourning with those who mourn.
While it’s true that God does not live in houses made with hands, his people do.
It’s why I’ve written about this topic before. From a purely stewardship perspective, these declining churches represent kingdom assets that were often obtained through the sacrifice of a body of believers. To see them be converted into a restaurant or bar, or torn down altogether, is heartbreaking.
In our increasingly de-churched culture, the price of obtaining the equivalent of these assets again is exponentially higher than the original cost.
But beyond the matter of stewardship is the matter of mission. These churches do not exist in a vacuum; they exist in a neighborhood or community. They are surrounded by people for whom Jesus died.
While the declining church may not have been able to adjust or adapt in such a way as to reach their neighbors, it doesn’t mean that no church would ever be successful in that area — even in that building. It might require remodeling both the auditorium and attitude, but it’s not impossible. In fact, it happens all the time. It takes courage and tenacity, but it is possible.
I regularly pray for two types of churches: those in decline and those who are advancing. I pray that those in decline may be revitalized — from the inside or the outside. Where the renewal comes from doesn’t matter; what does matter is kingdom impact and lost opportunities.
I also pray for advancing churches that they not become so focused on themselves that they lose sight of surrounding areas. In our quest for “success”, we might be tempted to see a small gain as less important, or even as a distraction. But it is a gain nonetheless.
Honestly, many of these declining churches exists in neighborhoods that the larger, advancing churches will never reach. That doesn’t make them less important, it just makes them different.
If every larger church adopted one declining church and helped turn it around, the results would be tremendous. Rather than seeing thousands of churches close their door every (and with every closure is a lost opportunity for that neighborhood), we would have new opportunities to reach new people in ways that the declining church could never have done.
Be very careful how you answer that last question.