[Author’s note: I was recently asked to speak at the closing of a congregation. Here are a few of my remarks, with much of the specifics omitted.]
There are no 2,000-year-old congregations in existence. The Lord’s churches in Corinth, Ephesus, and Philippi eventually disbanded. As to why or how or when we do not know, but that they did is no doubt. We are given a little information about one of these, when Jesus says to Ephesus in Revelation 2, that if you do not repent of leaving your first love, I will remove your candlestick. Did they repent? If not, they eventually were no longer recognized by the Lord.
Some congregations have closed due to having to flee for their lives under persecution. The Bible reveals in Acts 8:1 that the church members fled Jerusalem following the death of Stephen and the intensified persecution of Saul. I recall as a child touring the catacombs south of Rome, where Christians literally went underground. Persecution through the ages since the beginning of Christianity has contributed to the ending of brethren meeting in some places.
Some churches have folded due to a time when the gospel was out of season and the membership kept shrinking to where there were none left. Paul tells Timothy to preach in season and out of season, and then goes on to describe what out of season will look like. The members will no longer tolerate sound preaching. Through the centuries since, this has contributed to some groups breaking up. John in 1 John 2:19 talks about some folks leaving the fellowship.
Similar to this, some churches of Christ may have dissolved due to false teaching or practices that were introduced. Or discord that erupted within the ranks, or other works of the Devil. Satan has caused a lot of church closings.
And then of course, people die. Sometimes the passing of saints surpasses the births into the family of God, both spiritually and physically, and it is easy to see how this would then contribute to shrinking numbers and eventual closings.
Some of the Lord’s churches on earth have closed their operation due to a desire to merge with another congregation for good reasons. No problems, just expediency. Circumstances may dictate through the years this kind of thing. Buildings may crumble or neighborhoods may degenerate or whatever. It is a judgment call. Times change and conditions arise that affect the expediency of remaining in operation as a congregation of saints in a certain location.
And there are other reasons I overlook, but the bottom line is that churches of Christ on earth, in particular locations, eventually go out of existence. This is sad, but it is just the way it is in the world under the sun. It is very similar to earthly families, our blood kinfolks. You wish that no one grew up, or moved away, or passed away, but these things do happen and eventually, there is no more family at least not in the same framework that it was for many years. Churches are families, a band of brothers and sisters. And they too will go through changes.
Let me conclude by saying that rather than there being only sadness when a congregation comes to an end, it would do well to mix in some gladness. Once again, just as with our physical families, families of Christ can rejoice that they had a good fellowship for the time it existed. My earthly family with my parents did not last forever, but it sure was good while it did. And a body of believers can view it the same way. Whether it be thought a long or a short time, it was good while it lasted. It provided a place and time for shared worship and edification. Our Lord is the one who set up the practice of assembling, of engaging in fellowship, and so for many years, the congregation fulfilled the Lord’s commands and instructions along those lines. We then thank God for His blessing in providing this for so many for so long.
It also provided support and help to so many through the years. One of the purposes of joining a church’s membership is the pooling of resources for assisting those in need, those spreading the gospel, and for the edification of the saints. Two are better than one, and three than two, and on and on. God has willed for His children to join with others of like faith to pool their resources and abilities to accomplish a greater good together than one alone. The congregation dissolving was enabled by God to wonderfully do so for a long time. God be thanked.
A local church provides a beacon of light in the promotion of the gospel — in-house, in the community, and to far-reaching places. It was a light to this dark world. It is laid at the Lord’s feet for His providential use whenever He saw a need. A group, though now closing, were for a while, the hands and feet of Jesus in a certain place, when He wanted to use them. God be thanked. I trust things go well for those who will now be going elsewhere. May God be with you.