Stuggling congregations lack hope, purpose
    March 22 2010 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor

    Palmerville Baptist Church, a church plant in 1886, closed its doors Easter 2009 with 17 members, the same number of members that began the church and the same day it started.

    “It was becoming too much from them,” said Hal Bilbo, associational missionary for Stanly Baptist Association. “Members have joined other church fellowships and gave their property to the association.”

    Palmerville was a mission of Ebenezer Baptist Church, now Badin Baptist Church. 

    “It was only a couple of miles from church but it was a different community,” he said.

    That community once boomed with a general store, a school, and a post office. Bilbo said a plant closure in Badin contributed to the church’s membership decline. Leaders (deacons ranging in age 79-84) made the decision to close in 2008 because “it could no longer maintain the properties.”

    The church building and its cemetery were given to the association. The church is building a $100,000 cemetery fund to provide perpetual care. The fund is managed by the N.C. Baptist Foundation.

    “Our plans are to use it for a community center,” said Bilbo who mentioned the chapel might be used for weddings or a future congregation if the community builds back up around it.

    In Bilbo’s five years as associational missionary, this is only the second time he’s seen a church close.

    “The first one the pastor actually owned the property,” he said, but he was in bad health. The church tried another pastor but “it just didn’t work.”

    Bilbo said that only 10 of the 60 churches and two missions in his association are growing.

    “That’s not a great percentage,” said Bilbo, who considers six of the churches to be in critical shape. “They are in survival mode. It’s a challenge to help these struggling churches.”

    Some are aging congregations and are not reaching new people. Some have “lost their purpose,” he said. “They’ve operated as a support group for each other and do fine in that respect. It’s just really tough for them to go forward.”

    Seventeen have bivocational pastors.

    “We’ve had a church to ask another church to move in with it,” he said, but that hasn’t happened yet.

    A blended family like that “presents a unique set of challenges,” Bilbo said.

    Associational leadership is available to the churches. Bilbo said the association has offered clinics and he and others are willing to meet at the local church to talk with leaders.

    “Hopefully those who come in to help will inspire and be a little contagious,” Bilbo said. He sees a lack of hope in the struggling churches.

    “Hope does change your whole perspective towards things,” he said.

    Related stories
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    A time to die: How do (and should) churches die?
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    3/22/2010 7:56:00 AM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor | with 2 comments

There is a certain discomfiture in writing stories about churches that "didn't make it." We want to affirm those churches, applaud their efforts for years, decades, even a century or more. And yet, with a world at their door...
3/23/2010 8:53:18 AM

Brent Hobbs
Interesting group of articles on churches closing their doors or merging with other churches. Saw some stats the other day that said North Carolina had -3.4% growth in attendance of evangelical congregations from 2000-06. I see a lot of churches slowly declining because they refuse to be a church that reaches their community. They are inward focused, comfortable in the way they do things. They don't see their communities as a mission field and expect the world to come to them rather than going out and reaching people for Jesus.

I'm not necessarily saying that about any of these churches profiled here. Other things can be the cause sometimes. But I hope reading these stories is a wake-up call to a lot of us.
3/22/2010 10:52:23 PM

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