We have been closing churches in the Minnesota Annual Conference.
When we think of church, we often image a pastor, a building, and a group of people who meet there. In that model, when a church drops below 100 people in average worship attendance, it usually cannot afford a full-time pastor anymore.
When attendance drops to 30 or 40, and particularly as the congregants age, they find it challenging to afford their building. Often they find they do not have the financial capacity to be a stand-alone congregation anymore. Tough decisions face these churches. And yet, in these critical moments, even as congregations choose to discontinue or to merge with another church, it’s evident they still have a heart for mission and the future of the United Methodist Church.
We are starting congregations in the Minnesota Annual Conference.
This is directly a result of the mission heart of those churches that have ended their ministry. Harron United Methodist Church in Minneapolis closed and gave money they had in the bank as well as their building to the annual conference. A new Vietnamese language ministry at Richfield United Methodist Church in Minneapolis is funded with that gift. Riverview United Methodist Church in Brooklyn Center merged with Brooklyn United Methodist Church. Riverview sold their building to a daycare that had rented space there, and the proceeds are funding two new church starts: Mosaic and African United Methodist churches, both in Brooklyn Center. The resources have stayed in the community to reach new people and new generations.
When Hopkins United Methodist Church closed, the building became the home of Korean Evangelical United Methodist Church. The funds that Hopkins earned from the sale of some property are supporting leadership development and congregational revitalization. When Cleveland Avenue United Methodist Church (Saint Paul) closed, they gave some money to La Puerta Abierta United Methodist Church for their new building and some for a future new church in Saint Paul. Roseau United Methodist Church, when it closed, gave money to New Day, a new United Methodist Church in Big Lake. The sale of the Pine City United Methodist Church building benefited Spirit River United Methodist Church in Isanti. Without these churches’ generosity, giving their life away to the end, Minnesota United Methodists would not be able to start new churches.
We are not in the mission of closing churches. We want every church to be a thriving, vital church. But a church closing is not the end of the world. As I like to say, First Church Antioch is no longer with us either. Churches are born, churches grow, and along the way, often a church will die. That is the life cycle.
But we believe in resurrection, and what we are experiencing in Minnesota is just that. New life is being born out of the old. And I have often heard from members of those closed churches that they have experienced a blessing as they find a home in a neighboring or merged church. In their new church home, they no longer have to focus on the survival of the church they love. They are now free to use their gifts for the church’s ministry and grow spiritually in new ways. Yes, there is some grief along the way—there always is when there is death—but resurrection is happening all over the place. That is a story worth telling.
Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church