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How to Know When to Let a Church or Ministry Die

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In my career, I’ve routinely discovered an obsession with continuing the life of a nonprofit or ministry—even when it’s obvious their work is done or donors aren’t interested or it’s incompetent or it’s a cause or mission no one cares about. In the best cases, the reason they continue is because they just simply can’t imagine a church or ministry work ending. It’s understandable that in spite of poor results, bad outcomes, or lack of financial support, we still want to push forward for the kingdom of God.

But in the worst cases, it’s largely selfish. In other words, the purpose of the church or ministry isn’t about mission anymore; it’s about keeping people employed and paychecks coming. In other cases it’s about a leader’s ego or employees who simply think it’s easier to ride a dying horse than go to the trouble of finding a new one.

Whatever the reason, there is a time that certain churches, ministries and nonprofit organizations should consider pulling the plug. Here’s a few:

1. When They’ve Forgotten Their ‘Why’

I know one ministry that was founded on evangelism. They were great at it, but eventually realized “evangelism” is a tough sell to donors. Instead of doing the tough work of figuring it out, they started exploring other “whys,” like feeding the hungry, pro-life campaigns, human trafficking, disaster relief and more; all the time searching for what would connect better with donors. They were all good causes, but before long they forgot the original reason they existed. As a result, they lost their passion and became more about finding what will keep the donor money coming in than actually accomplishing their purpose.

2. When Church Leaders Have Lost Their Accountability

Yes I know that there are good people still inside churches who’s leaders have gone off the rails; but in too many cases there are churches with unaccountable leaders, and there is no plan or desire to change. Pastors who divorce their wives and never miss a day in the pulpit. Leaders who live lavishly at the expense of the people they’re supposed to serve. When elders (official or otherwise) won’t step up and call the leader to accountability. When heretical doctrine becomes normal. When their peers make excuses for them. When their staff puts them on a pedestal. Those are all signs that it may be time to shut the doors.

3. When Ministries Stop Pointing to the Church

Remember when outside ministries were called “para-church” ministries? Para means “by the side of” or “side by side.” But in the media age, many ministries have grown beyond any attachment to the church and pretty much stand on their own. A ministry today doesn’t have to have an official affiliation with a single church, but it should always be pointing people to the “Church” with a capital “C.” I’ve actually met major ministry leaders who don’t even attend church. They tell me “I do ministry work all week. Why should I attend church on Sundays?” But the corporate church is the reason any outside ministry exists, and if it’s not making churches stronger and driving people there, then it’s not accomplishing its ultimate purpose.

4. When a Ministry or Nonprofit Is Good at Something That Doesn’t Matter

Today there are ministries and nonprofits raising money for projects that aren’t even necessary. I saw an ad in a Christian magazine recently raising money to smuggle Bibles into China. Seriously? Who’s doing that anymore? Yes, there are crackdowns on churches in China, but at the same time there are printing companies inside the country printing Bibles. There are also fantastic Bible apps like YouVersion that have Chinese language Bibles and study resources available to anyone with a smartphone.

Part of the problem is that too few Christians really think. We’re impulse givers and if the advertisement or appeal is emotional enough—no matter how irrelevant—then we give. As a result, we have ministries continuing to be financially supported who don’t actually accomplish anything, or the payroll is mostly 3rd and 4th generation family members still hanging on (because they still have the mailing list from the glory days), or who are doing projects that aren’t even necessary. As much as it may go against the grain of our thinking, nobody ever said a single church, ministry or nonprofit should last forever. Plus, there’s plenty of reasons for certain outreaches to be raised up for “such a time as this,” make an impact in their generation and then close their doors.

If we’re going to make a difference in today’s world, we need to let some churches, ministries and nonprofit organizations die. Then, let’s redirect those financial resources and support to the ones making a real impact.

Phil Cooke is an internationally known writer and speaker. Through his company Cooke Pictures in Burbank, California, he’s helped some of the largest nonprofit organizations and leaders in the world use media to tell their story. This article was originally published on Cooke’s blog at PhilCooke.com.

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