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There will be signs (Luke 21:25)

Before the pandemic, many of our communities of faith were beginning to see signs that their finances and volunteer resources were declining.  Now with the impact of the pandemic the signs are everywhere.  Discussions and decisions that were put off as we waited out Covid 19, are now urgently needed.  These are signs that the way we have always done things is no longer working, and change is happening, but there are also signs of hope as we face these challenges together.  What isn’t helpful is simply letting time rob you of the opportunity to explore options and make choices about the future of your congregation and ministry.

Recognizing the Signs

If your community of faith is:

Anxious about the future of your community of faith?

It’s time to explore options

Struggling to recruit enough volunteers?

It’s time to talk about the future.

Experiencing increasing deficits and declining investments?

It’s time to make a plan

Recognizing signs and making decisions is something we do every day.  Overcast sky; we take an umbrella.  Gas gauge on empty; we head to the gas station.  Toothache; we call the dentist.  We have learned that ignoring the signs can lead to bigger problems later.  And simply hoping we won’t run out of gas, or the cavity will fix itself is not realistic.  The same is true when congregations see signs that their community of faith has become vulnerable due to a lack of money, volunteers or both.  While it may be tempting to simply keep going hoping next year will be better, the reality is that with each passing month there is less time to explore options, talk about the future and make plans.  And while these may be uncomfortable discussions, it is even more difficult when a decision is forced upon a community of faith because they have run out of resources and time.

There is no denying that acknowledging and responding to the signs is challenging work that takes courage and trust and often leads to change.  But it can be the change you choose rather than the change that will happen if nothing is done.

Here are some things you need to know and remember:

1) You are not alone!  God is with us.  We are with one another.

2) This is not your fault.  This change is the result of social, demographic, cultural and other forces beyond the control of any one congregation.

3) Things will not go back to the way they were.

4) The problems will not solve themselves.

5) All of the possible options such as collaboration, property redevelopment, amalgamation and disbanding take time to do well.  Waiting until the last moment to make a decision will limit your options.

6) We are a resurrection people.  We believe that new life will come, even in the midst of loss.

Your Congregational Support Commission invites you to make 2024 the year all of our communities of faith ask courageous questions about their situation, talk to one another, begin to make plans and choices rather than wait and see, and ask how together we continue our shared ministries as the United Church of Canada.

This year,

  • If your community of faith has an abundance of resources, ask, how might we partner with our neighbours so that their ministry continues?
  • If your neighbouring church is closing, ask how you might pick up some of their ministries so that the good work continues?
  • Complete or update your community of faith profile, and look for signs that it is time to take control and start making plans.

Finances – Signs to Watch For

Halo Canada conducted a study of approximately 4300 churches in Canada that closed between 2009 and 2018.  Their findings identified several key characteristics of congregations at risk of closing.

Warning Signs

  • An annual deficit for three or more years consecutively
  • Annual expenses running 30% higher than revenue
  • Cash and long-term investments less than three times the annual deficit
  • Property expenses 30% or more of annual expenses
  • Staffing costs greater than 60% of the total expenses.
  • Trend of declining income and/or increasing deficit

If a congregation is experiencing 3 or more of these risk factors, they are at high risk of closure in the next 3-5 years.

Use the Financial Viability Worksheet to identify whether these risk factors apply to your community of faith.

Volunteers – Signs to Watch For

Communities of Faith need capable, willing and available volunteers to carry out the work of being a church.  Members are needed for the governing body, Board of Trustees and M&P committee and to help organize events, fundraisers, and worship.  While it can be useful to have people with experience offer leadership, it becomes a problem when people feel they cannot “retire” from a position because there is no one available to take over the responsibility.  In some congregations, a few people are stretched thin trying to ensure everything gets done.

Warning Signs

  • Volunteers are being asked to fill more than one position
  • Volunteers have held the same position for more than 5 years because there was no one else available
  • The Board of Trustees or M&P Committee do not have the required 3 members
  • Volunteers are feeling exhausted, overwhelmed or resentful
  • Very few people are gathering for worship in person or virtually

If a congregation is experiencing these challenges they are at risk of closure in the near future, even if they have ample financial resources.

Use the Demographic Worksheet to identify whether these risk factors apply to your community of faith.

Taking Charge – Exploring Options

Once your community of faith has determined whether they are at risk, you can now begin to make plans for your future.  Knowing that your resources may be exhausted in a few years, you can begin to explore options and make choices.

Options and Opportunities

  • Reach out to your regional council Congregational Support Minister and the Congregational Support Commission.
  • Collaborative Ministry – share resources and ministry personnel with another congregation to reduce expenses
  • Purchase complete worship services with recorded sermons to reduce the cost and time required to arrange for pulpit supply each week.
  • Explore options to redevelop property or increase rental income
  • Sell your property and rent space in the community or “nest” with another congregation to share worship and building facilities
  • Begin to discuss amalgamation with a neighbour. (a good amalgamation requires time, at least a year in most cases, to get to know one another, create an agreement, celebrate the past and embrace the future)
  • Make plans to disband. To do this well takes time.  Time to celebrate the ministry you have shared, time to grieve, time to plan your legacy and time to manage your property and records.


Lynne Allin
MINISTER, CONGREGATIONAL SUPPORT Horseshoe Falls and Antler River Watershed Regional Councils

You are Invited to:

Vulnerable Congregations Discussion

While this may feel overwhelming, remember you are not alone.  The Congregational Support Commission is inviting your Minister, Chair, Treasurer and Lay Representative to a discussion session.   Please share this article and the link below.  We look forward to seeing you soon.

Lynne Allin (she/her) is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Vulnerable Congregations Discussion

Horseshoe Falls Regional Council March 21st, 2024, 7 – 8:30pm  

https://united-church.zoom.us/j/87178139356  Meeting ID: 871 7813 9356

Join by Phone:   1-855-703-8985 Canada Toll-free

Antler River Watershed Regional Council April 17th, 2024, 7 – 8:30pm

https://united-church.zoom.us/j/88944207737 Meeting ID: 889 4420 7737

Join by Phone:   1-855-703-8985 Canada Toll-free

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