by Lee Hull Moses for Disciples Mission Fund
When East Side Christian Church held their final worship service last year, it wasn’t the end of their story.
It was an all too familiar situation: an aging congregation, declining membership, a building that was far too big for them. East Side Christian Church had been a presence in Evansville, Indiana for more than 75 years, but it was becoming clear that something needed to change. With a large endowment to draw from, they had some options: They could sell their building and make a new start somewhere else. They could stay where they were, call a new minister, and try to find a new vision for a revitalized ministry. They could simply carry on as they were, worshiping with only a handful of people led by a part-time, interim pastor.
Through a long period of difficult, intentional discernment, they realized they just didn’t have the energy or the passion to try to start over, in their current building or somewhere else. And it didn’t feel faithful to just carry on as is, spending their resources with no real vision for their ministry. But it turns out they had another option: They could close their doors, give away what was left, and let their generosity tell a new story.
That’s the option they chose.
Rev. John Rich, the pastor of East Side who helped the congregation through the discernment process, said it was something of a relief once the decision was made. “We’d known it for a long time,” he said, “but we had to admit it to ourselves.” There was a lot of grief to work through, and it felt at times like the congregation’s long legacy of ministry and mission was being erased.
In addition to the difficult decision to close, however, East Side had another important decision to make: what would happen to the significant assets they had left? They realized they had an opportunity for their ministry to continue in new ways.
The congregation had long been active in the regional and general expressions of the church and had been faithful supporters of Disciples Mission Fund. At the close of East Side’s ministry, a gift of $100,000 was given to the Indiana region. Another $100,000 was given to DMF to support the ministries of the wider church. Other equally generous gifts were distributed to local community service organizations in Evansville, and to Bethany Christian Church, a neighboring Disciples congregation.
In his sermon at East Side’s final worship service, Rich reminded the congregation that for Christians, death is never the end. East Side was living its own resurrection story.
This congregation, which once saw no way forward, found their vision and passion in empowering other ministries to be part of God’s continuing work. Hungry neighbors in Evansville will be fed because of East Side’s vision. Disciples across Indiana will be supported because of East Side’s generosity. Ministry partners around the world will be served by East Side’s legacy.
“As a congregation, we have come to a time of physical death and burial, but we know that this is not the end.” Rich said in that final service. “East Side Christian Church, like all good things, will rise again. We will rise again as all of the ministries of our past continue to live on, transforming lives and making a difference in the world from our own neighborhood to the ends of the earth.”
Rev. Nancy Thomas says
I am very interested in this story. My congregation will be needing to make some similar decisions. We are a small, aging congregation with a 100+ year old building and limited financial resources. For the most part, we’re just doing our thing until the money runs out. But I don’t want to end that way. I’d like to direct what money we do have left to some of our favorite mission projects. One of our concerns is what to do with our building. What happened with Eastside’s building? Thanks for your time.
First Christian Church, Shenandoah, Iowa
John Rich says
This is John Rich. The East Side congregation considered multiple options, but ultimately we decided to sell the building. The proceeds from the sale were added to the savings/endowment funds and distributed to the various ministries. I know it can sometimes be difficult to sell a church building, depending on the market. We happened to have a realtor in the congregation–who was also an Elder and Board member–and it was through her connections that we heard about another congregation in the area that was looking to purchase a building. We also considered donating the building to another congregation, a local nonprofit organization, or one of the local universities. Please feel free to email me if you have further questions: [email protected]. Thanks for the comment! -John Rich