You may not have heard of First Christian Church in Santa Ana, CA. But you probably know at least one of its 103 grandchildren.
In 2002, FCC made the difficult decision to close its church and sell its property. Although the congregation was a thriving megachurch back in the 60s, over the years attrition and a changing neighborhood had taken its toll. By the late 90s the church was struggling to keep its doors open and a nearby college was offering cash for their property. After prayer, discussion, and appropriate celebrations of the life of the church and its ministries, First Christian eventually decided to accept the school’s offer and close the church.
Does this shock you? Isn’t it wrong to let a church die?
In a 2007 Christian Standard article, Tom Jones wrote, “Death is the end of the natural order of things. A body wears out and dies. This is true of local churches as well as human beings. Perhaps the greatest church in the New Testament was at Antioch, but there is no evidence of that church today. It died. Its legacy is found in the churches that were started after Antioch.”
Just as we eventually grow old and die, most churches experience a natural, even healthy, life-cycle. And just as we can make intentional choices to leave a legacy for the generations after us, churches can be strategic in using their property and people to bless others and start new churches.
I learned about FCC as part of a new project I’m doing with Kairos Legacy Partners, which works with struggling churches around the country to help them evaluate options and make choices that honor the sacrifice and stewardship of their members. Instead of condemning churches for closing, Kairos partners with them to finish well.
“One of the great tragedies of the modern church in America is we are squandering the legacies and the resources of our older churches,” president David Pace says in another CS article. “Just as people pass on their wisdom, their values, and their assets to the next generation, so too should our local churches.”
Ten years ago, FCC had a choice: they could struggle along with a few dozen members and lots of unpaid bills, or they could choose to close and bless others. The church sold their property for over $5 million and established a fund for future church plants. These “grandchildren” include Christ’s Church at Cobb, Highland Christian Church, Kinetic Christian Church, Forefront Christian Church, Common Ground Christian Church, Momentum Christian Church, New City Church of Los Angeles, Restore Community Church, Response Christian Church, LifePointe Church, Verve, and Love Canton, plus more than 85 others in the US and nine in Israel.
Closing a church is not a decision to be made lightly. Many churches need leadership, not an end to life support. But thousands of churches will close their doors this year. Instead of seeing these as “failures” or pouring kingdom money into keeping them running ineffectively, wouldn’t it be better stewardship to celebrate their history and recycle their resources into something new?