We started Exodus Church in 2009 with 30 adults and 15 children and a dream that we could be a redeemed people who worship and serve God in the world—both locally and globally. God has been kind, and we are still here.
One of Jesus’ promises that has encouraged us from the beginning of our journey is from the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus says “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
That’s great news for those who are trying to start a church. Jesus is working to build his church. His Church is on the move to storm the gates of hell and those gates will not prevail. You can imagine how this promise would provoke courage and faith in our hearts.
It’s also sobering. Jesus never promised to build the church we were trying to start. He promises to build his. In fact, He is only committed to building ours as it relates to his mission. This story is about his name being worshipped by a people from every tribe and tongue. This story is not about us.
Jesus never promised to build the church we were trying to start. He promises to build his.
Because this story is not about us, I have no doubt that there may come a day when Exodus Church will join the long list of churches throughout history that have become legacy churches. Men far greater than I have led churches that no longer exist. The churches Paul planted in the New Testament don’t have websites. Our country is filled with historic buildings that once held thriving gospel communities on mission. All of these churches played their part in the building of Jesus’ Church and then a time came when they were no longer.
Attendance wanes. Money dries up. Decisions have to be made.
In our context, we have legacy churches that have played their part in Jesus’ Church. Pictures line the halls filled with memories of better days. But those days are only memory. The faithful few remain hoping that things will turn around without anything changing. But, the reality is that these legacy churches have played their role in Jesus’ Church and are now fading out of that story.
Are we a legacy church?
No one wants to think that the church they attend is dying. And no follower of Jesus should find joy in the reality that many churches are. Depending on your source, between 3000 and 7000 churches close every year in the United States. Sadly, there are many churches that need to take an honest assessment of their situation.
Others have said more about this, but the following are indicators I have seen in legacy churches in our area.
- Survival has become the mission. Rather than seeking to make disciples of all nations, legacy churches are trying to stay viable. They can’t afford to maintain their current facility. The church is selling property to pay its bills.
- Memory is more vibrant than momentum. Rather than fueling a vision for the future, legacy churches reminisce about the past. The gathering is aging and there is little new life infused into the church. The best days of the church seem to be in the past rather than in the future.
If this resembles the church you love, I’m sure this is a difficult season filled with tearful prayers for God to bring new life to your church. You pray hopeful prayers, but sometimes churches reach the end of their life cycle. As hard as this realization is, it’s an important moment of clarity.
Your church might be a legacy church.
So, what should a legacy church do with the remaining resources?
If 3000-7000 churches in the United States close each year, what happens to their facilities? What happens to the millions of Kingdom dollars invested in the physical plant?
Some are choosing to sell the building to a developer. The property that was once a beachhead for gospel ministry is then renovated into anything from a skate park to a bookstore. Others have been converted into restaurants so that food can be worshipped where Jesus once was. Meanwhile, church plants that are growing and reaching people struggle to find a place to call home.
I think there’s a better choice.
Here are two options I wish churches would consider as they become legacy churches.
- Find a church in your area that needs a facility. Disband and join the church you want to bless or sell the building to them for some ridiculous amount like $1.Then pray for that church. Pray that they would use the facility that your church met in to the extent that they would have good days to remember.
- Find a network or denomination that is looking to plant new churches and gift the facility to them or ask them to connect you with a church that needs a facility. Many of these networks have church plants in your area that are looking for facilities. These church plants are laboring in gospel ministry. They need a place to call home. Networks can connect legacy churches to church plants to assist in this transition.
Here’s my hope for legacy churches facing this decision: That legacy churches would see the giving of their facility to another church not as the end of their part of Jesus’ mission, but perhaps their greatest moment in it.
Now, if you are part of a legacy church, my goal is not to offend. I know it’s possible that the church I’m entrusted to lead will one day face a decision like this. Not tomorrow or the next few years even, but at some point Exodus may join the roll of churches that close or disband—if Jesus tarries.
Our elders have already agreed that we will build a kingdom mindset into the DNA of future elders so that if or when that day comes Exodus will seek to bless the next wave of Jesus’ Church by giving our facilities away.
We want to be committed to what Jesus is committed to – his church. He has promised that he will build his. We want to join him in his mission. We believe that Exodus has a role in that story, however when that role is finished we want those entrusted to lead Exodus to faithfully pass the baton to someone else.
I hope other churches will as well.
If your church is a legacy church and you aren’t aware of a church or network you could bless with your facility, please email at email@example.com.
Brian Lowe has a degree in Biblical Studies from Reformed Theological Seminary. He planted Exodus Church—now grown to 2 congregations—after 16 years with student ministry. Brian’s heart is to be involved in Jesus’ mission through developing church planters. Brian is blessed with a wonderful wife, Cheryl, and four children.