Like 3500-4500 churches each year in America, this church was thinking about closing its doors. Just over eight years ago, there had been enough energy and hope among somewhere near 200 church members to add a new 300-seat auditorium and several classrooms to their small, aging facility.
But by the end of 2011, in spite of several soul-searching attempts at revival and renewal, church membership was about 50 members with little hope left of turning things around.
This church had a very limited number of choices; without knowing what actually took place, I’m confident that some members probably wanted to hold on and keep trying to grow. “If we just work harder, . . . .” Other members may have been for searching out a partner and merging with a larger established congregation. Other small churches in this area have done that in the last few years.(See “Southlake and The Hills ). I hope none were tempted to maintain their identity until the last person walked out the door and locked up the building, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
Ultimately, the church and its leaders decided that even this process could be damaging to those members still left, so the best thing to do for this congregation was to encourage all current members to seek other church families and to become involved with them. Sunday, May 27 was the last communion service in this building which had been home to this church family for three decades.
But what about the building? What happens to all the things, including the building, when a church disbands?
By law, non-profit organizations—which includes churches—upon dissolution cannot just sell everything and distribute the proceeds to the members. It doesn’t take long to figure out why! Virtually all of the money used to purchase all of the assets would have been charitable donations for which all of the donors received tax benefits. The church property had been tax exempt. And much of the money given charitably to the organization would have been given by people who were no longer associated with the church. The principle is the no one is allowed to “profit” from the sale of a non-profit!
So what happens with all the assets when a church disbands? A church building, for instance, can be sold, but all the proceeds must be distributed to other non-profit organizations. I have known church buildings which were sold and all of the proceeds went to build Christian camps; others gave their funds to other congregations to support mission work; still others have given their funds away to facilitate new church plants.
This church decided to sell the building and distribute all of the funds to a variety of ministries with which the church had been involved.
Let’s Start Talking was a ministry in search of a home; we were going to be evicted on September 30 of this year to make room for a new airport freeway. On July 16, the day after the “For Sale” sign appeared in front of the church building, we contacted the church leaders, who by that time were the only “members” of the congregation left and the ones who were personally maintaining and funding the building.
Because they knew and had actually participated as a church with Let’s Start Talking, they were eager to talk. From the very beginning, they made it clear that they were willing to sell us the building well below its appraised value in order to make it possible for LST to purchase the building.
After just a few conversations, the church leaders made LST a firm offer that could be accepted, a purchase price that was just over 50% of what the church was asking others to pay.
This morning, October 12, we sat around the table with the banker and the lawyer, and the deed to the facility passed from these faithful church leaders to the Let’s Start Talking Ministry. The papers were signed quickly, but afterwards we all just stood around and talked about how God had once again provided in a way that exceeded our imaginations.
Sherrylee asked some of the church leaders if there were any pangs of remorse. Of course there is some sense of loss, but these men all reassured us of the joy it brought them to know that what had been of such great benefit to them was now going to continue to be used for the work of the kingdom and through a ministry in which they believed God was working.
LST is the beneficiary of this great blessing, and we know that all good gifts come from the Father, but we want to commend these church leaders for faithful stewardship of all with which they had been entrusted—to the very end!
They are a great example to the leaders of all of those 3500-4500 churches that are closing each year. The end of your story is not the end of God’s story for you!