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Logistics of Closing a Church

You’ve taken steps to listen well and care for your congregation through the difficult time of making the decision to close. Now you’ll need to consider what steps are required to close well. This requires a level of detail that can be intimidating. But with the help of this resource and representatives from classis and the denomination, you can close in a way that is careful and God-honoring. We expect closing well will require three special council meetings, one special congregational meetings and one classis meeting.

First Meeting of Council

Before the Meeting

  • If you haven’t already, invite classis to send a church visitor or two to support your church throughout this process by participating in meetings and offering technical advice, spiritual wisdom and pastoral care.
  • Also, contact Pastor Church Resources to invite denominational staff who specialize in helping churches navigate the procedures of closing.  
  • Review your church’s bylaws to ensure you are compliant with all provisions related to the church’s formal closing. This Crossroads Guide for closing is compliant with church order (Article 38-d and its Supplement) but is not necessarily also compliant with your bylaws. Many churches consult with a lawyer to ensure they are taking the appropriate steps.

Agenda Items

  1. Will we disband or un-organize?
    • Most closing churches choose to disband. To disband means the church intends to dissolve its council, conclude its status as a legal entity and cease regular meetings and programs. While something new might emerge in the future from the people or distributed assets left from the church, disbanding relieves the pressure to maintain any program or organization and allows everyone to consider what new opportunities God is making possible.
    • To un-organize means the church will dissolve it’s council, conclude its status as a legal entity, but it will continue to operate as an emerging ministry under the authority of a nearby council. In CRCNA Church Order, an “emerging church” is also the term for a new church start or church plant. Talk to your Resonate Regional Mission Leader to see if un-organizing would be a helpful step toward continued kingdom mission.
    • Note that this Crossroads Guide assumes closing churches will disband.
  2. Identify a preferred neighboring church. This church, ideally from within the same classis, will...
    • Receive all memberships not otherwise transferred elsewhere.
    • Receive the ministry credentials of all ordained ministers. Contact Pastor Church Resources to ensure you have accounted for all ministers whose credentials you hold. (Specialized ministers, like chaplains and missionaries, can sometimes be overlooked.)
    • Receive two council members from the closing church to serve as temporary, non-voting members of council responsible for ensuring members of the closing church receive continued pastoral care and discipleship.
    • Receive authority to permit future access to official church records held at Heritage Hall at Calvin University.
  3. Identify, from among your own council members, two people willing to serve as temporary, non-voting council members of the neighboring church. (The term of such service is usually six months as non-voting office-bearers).
  4. Identify a date for a final public worship service
    • Choose a final worship date that gives people time to prepare but isn’t too far into the future. Most churches find that four to eight weeks is about the right amount of notice. This provides enough time to invite former members, pastors and friends of the church who might want to be present while also not dragging out the process, which can be emotionally draining. Churches have found that once they announce a closing date, the congregation generally shifts to a mode of finishing well.
  5. Determine the process you will follow to make this decision
    • Church Order (Article 38d) expects that both council and congregation must make the decision to close the church.
    • When will you hold a congregational vote?
  6. Communicate to the congregation.
    • Communicate decisions you made at this meeting.
    • Communicate what process you will follow.
    • Share these Frequently Asked Questions about membership.

First Congregational Meeting

  1. Communicate all relevant decisions and the process you will follow to close. (Sharing this Crossroads Guide is one way to help your congregation know what to expect)
  2. Take congregational vote.

Second Meeting of Council: Tending to the Details

  1. Council should make a formal request to classis to disband or un-organize according to Church Order Article 38d.

    Sample Request:
    The council of First Christian Reformed Church asks classis to approve the disbanding of First Christian Reformed Church effective (DATE) with a final worship service schedule for (DATE).

    • Having followed the Crossroads Discernment Process, we have discerned that God is permitting us to close. 
    • It has become difficult to maintain even basic ministries of the church.
    • We look forward to using our remaining assets of people, building and money to bless other Kingdom causes.

    Note that the date of the legal closure should be no less than three months after the final worship service, to ensure adequate time for the church to resolve its legal status and finances.

  2. Ask the Classis to ensure that the preferred neighboring church is willing to receive memberships and ministry credentials.
    • Transfer the ministerial credentials of any minister of the Word or commissioned pastor from the former congregation to another council.
      • Obtain classis approval for the transfer of ministerial credentials to another council. Use the form for transfer of supervision of a released minister to another council for supervision of his or her doctrine and life. Use the form for transfer of supervision for any retired ministers.
      • The council that holds the minister’s credentials shall publicize the minister’s availability for call.
      • Consult with the church visitors from classis on these transitions.

        Note: It is of utmost importance that pastors are dealt with kindly and respectfully in this process. Pastors may well feel a sense of failure or shame, and some people may try to blame them for what’s considered a failure. But the decision to close a church always involves much more than just a pastor’s successes or failures. The narrative of failure should not be laid at the pastor’s feet. Ensuring that a pastor is being pastored through this transition is essential. Each classis has a Regional Pastor who can be of service to a pastor in need. To learn more about how your pastor may experience closing, read What Happens to the Pastor after a Church Closes? by Joshua Benton. Benton provides an honest reflection on his journey of grieving when his church closed, and what a congregation can do to support pastors in this process.
    • Use Article 17 of the Church Order (pp. 34-36) to guide the process of releasing any minister(s) from ministerial service due to the disbanding of the congregation—unless a minister is retiring or anticipates receiving another call before the disbandment occurs.
    • The use of Article 17 will also guide how and under what conditions (if any) a pastor may receive another call. The classis needs to approve the pastor’s eligibility for call when the church closes, or to approve of an evaluation process, if needed. Additionally, Article 17 clarifies the church’s responsibility to provide severance for any pastor who’s released from his or her call. Consult Church Order guidelines that ensure at least a minimum number of weeks of financial provision and support while a pastor seeks a new call. Churches are certainly welcome to provide well beyond that minimum. (For more on best practices for Article 17 requests,
  3. Ask the Classis to set aside time during the classis meeting to thank God for his faithfulness and to pray for the transitions ahead.
  4. Ask the Classis to assist with arranging a “Church Fair” or “Visit Sundays” where members might be helped to connect with new congregations. Classis could consider the following options:
    • Host a lunch or a dinner at the church. Invite leaders of local churches to come and hold a forum for the congregation. A facilitator should prepare a set of questions ahead of time to ask each visiting leader about their church, and should ask the same questions of each leader.
    • Schedule a bus trip to visit local congregations on a weekday or Saturday. Arrange a short tour of each building and speak with leaders from that church about their church.
    • Take a couple of Sundays (maybe one a month) to worship as a group at another church together. Meet for coffee after these services to share your experience.
  5. Appoint a sub-committee to plan a final worship service.
    • Consider how you might include some of what you learned during the Crossroads process in the worship service. What stories could be shared as testimonies of God’s faithfulness in and through your church?
    • Make an effort to invite former members, ministers and friends of the church to the final worship service. Extend the invitation to other churches in classis. 
    • CRCNA Worship Ministries is available to help Crossroads churches design a meaningful final worship service.
  6. Appoint a sub-committee to determine a Legacy Impact Plan. The sub-committee should invite Classis Church Visitors, Resonate Regional Mission Leader and CRCNA Denominational staff to meet with the sub-committee.
  7. Continue to Provide Pastoral Care
    • Pastoral care is important during this time. Expect that the closing of your church may prompt feelings of failure, abandonment, regret and grief.
    • Care for one another by allowing plenty of time for people to articulate what they’re experiencing. Pray together in trust that God is with you even in this challenging season.
    • Reach out to more vulnerable members of your church, like those who are homebound or who have intellectual or other disabilities. The upcoming transition may be especially difficult for such members.
    • Consider hosting a special prayer and sharing meeting where members are invited to share their mixed feelings about closure. Offer these reflections in prayer to God.

Third Meeting of Council

Before the Meeting

  1. Inform the Congregation of the Classis’ Decision
  2. Ask members to indicate to the council what they’d like to be done with their membership
    • By default, all memberships will be transferred to the preferred neighboring church.
    • Identify those to be transferred to another CRC congregation.
    • Identify those that will need a statement of membership for affiliation with a congregation from another denomination.

Agenda Items

  1. Review and approve the Legacy Impact Plan. Schedule a congregational meeting to present the plan and seek congregational approval.
  2. Appoint trustees. The council should name a small trustee committee to be responsible for executing the Legacy Impact Plan. The trustees should include at least one member of council and one member of the Legacy Impact Plan committee. While the church council is legally responsible for the oversight and distribution of funds, the trustees can carry on the work after the council is dissolved.
  3. Process all membership transfer requests.
    • Consider creating a list of how your members have each used their gifts and talents to serve your congregation; this can be a valuable resource to help them connect to the new congregation.
    • Unless noted otherwise, all memberships should be transferred to the preferred neighboring church.
  4. Care for and express gratitude to other church staff.
    The procedure for releasing unordained staff is covered under local laws, which often include provisions for advance notice and suggestions regarding severance.
    • Ensure that staff are paid all the money that’s due them (including reimbursements and salary).
    • Write a letter of recommendation for them to use in their job search.
    • Invite the congregation to write letters of gratitude to each of the staff members.
  5. Appoint a representative to work with Heritage Hall at Calvin University for the depositing of historic items and records of the congregation. Inform Heritage Hall of the church that will authorize access to these records in the future.
  6. Write a Final Report to Classis
    The final report should include
    • List of the transfers of membership that have taken place and details about continued  pastoral care.
    • Date of final worship service.
    • Processing of historical materials.
    • Current ownership status of properties that have been owned by the congregation. List  what happened to the assets or funds from the assets.
    • Name the continuing trustees of the corporation who are authorized to sign papers for  any remaining assets and distribution of funds.

Sample Report

Final Report on _________________________ Christian Reformed Church.

_________________________ CRC has now closed its ministry, holding a final worship service on _________________.This was a time of celebration and remembering God’s faithfulness through almost ________ years of ministry to members and community. 

The following committees were formed to make decisions regarding this closure: ______________________________________________________.

The plans for the church facilities, including the parsonage, are ________________________________________________________________________________.

The council members have continued on as Trustees of the Corporation after the final service for working with _________________________________________________________ and signing _________________________________________________________.

The funds will be used for _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

Some members have transferred to other fellowships, but most have transferred to _________________________________________________________.

Pastoral care will be done by ___________________________________________________________. 

The membership records have been sent to __________________________________________________________.

There is strong appreciation for ___________________________. The Council thanks ___________________________.

Respectfully submitted,

General Advice

  1. Use the full official church name on any papers.
  2. Be sure any papers are signed with the signee’s position title and not just a personal name.
  3. Consult the classis and seek its advice.
  4. Consult with legal-financial experts:
    • Determine that legal contracts have been made for ensuring that all things are done properly.
    • Make correct announcements.
    • Adopt resolutions.
    • File reports with the state/province as may be required.
  5. Seek legal advice on dissolving the corporation.
  6. Operate according to the congregation’s Articles of Incorporation and bylaws.
  7. Seek a congregational vote of consent for any congregational distribution of properties or plan of distribution for smaller items.
  8. Work with a realtor for selling the church facilities/parsonage.
  9. Consider discounting or giving church properties to another Christian organization.
  10. Sell or give items with a specific pickup date so that church operations can continue until that date.
  11. Items that have significant monetary value should be given to organizations that share the same kingdom concerns for which the items were originally purchased or given.
  12. Items given to the church belong to the congregation and not to the donor. Such items may be sold in an auction at which the donor might be the highest bidder. Other ways of selling might also be used.