April 08, 2019 10:18am

ife goes on. Most of us want life to persevere after we leave this world. What about your church’s life? Will it survive the ongoing trend of closings occurring throughout thousands of mainline Protestant churches in the United States? With respect to what you associate with church life, do you believe in life after death?

Denominations have survived schisms, scandals, and splits through the years, but some experts believe mainline Protestant churches are moving toward extinction. While the causes for this struggle to survive are debatable, the practical reality is that many mainline Protestant churches are actually declining at an accelerating rate. Not only are doubting Thomas’s seeing this, but I am hearing about constrained budgets and unsustainably low membership levels when I call on churches in Northeast Ohio.  

What’s really happening in your church? Is there an atmosphere of vitality, participation, and commitment? The true answer to these questions involves an objective look at the numbers week after week after week. Attendance is fundamental. Look at the numbers for the last year, 2, 5, and 10-year time frames. If you do not have actual attendance records, at least look at envelope assignments and piece together the most accurate picture you are able. What you are looking for is a pattern.  Is attendance increasing, steady, or decreasing? Attrition for any reason, i.e. death, divorce, or drop-offs, must be counted. Has your congregation attracted visitors who return regularly? Do they become members? Is there a growing youth presence? Also examine the numbers of marriages and baptisms that have been performed. For those who live locally, do they attend church services and events, or is the actual ritual of marriage or baptism the extent of their participation?

The other set of numbers to consider regarding your church’s lifeline is that of finances. In order for your church to remain and sustain as an operational, going concern, it needs operating income. Operating income is completely separate and distinct from reserves in earmarked funds, such as endowment funds or memorial funds. Usually the use of earmarked funds is limited, and it is not likely that earmarked funds can be repeatedly accessed to pay regular and recurring operational expenses such as staff salaries, utility bills, insurance premiums, and routine maintenance.  Look at the history of financial contributions, i.e. regular offerings, over the most recent 2, 5, and 10-year time periods. Is there a pattern of decline? Also be mindful of unique factors, such as one or two sources being the main financial sustenance allowing your church to operate from day to day. What would happen to the day-to-day operations, if either or both of those sources was no longer available? Would there be life after death?

If an objective examination of the numbers reveals financial health and positive energy, then your church is not facing life after death. If, however, the numbers indicate your church is in a death spiral, then you might consider some pre-planning. A future blog will suggest practical, can-do encouragement to perpetuate life after death for some vulnerable mainline Protestant churches.

Whatever the life cycle of a church, your Trusted Choice Independent Insurance Agent at Richey-Barrett Insurance specializes in helping churches obtain proper insurance coverage.

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