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Big Questions
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Where have all the churches gone?

Chronicle correspondent Cheryl Mann Bacon undertakes a project to uncover what happens when church buildings close.

Based on records maintained by 21st Century Christian, roughly 200 Churches of Christ in the U.S. closed between 2014 and 2021.

These congregations encompassed every region of the country. They were urban and rural. They spanned the conservative-to-progressive continuum.

The trend began in the 1990s and has accelerated in recent decades. More than a pandemic is at work here.

Where have all the churches gone?

Related: Shrinking congregations sell buildings

A Christian Chronicle special project that I’m leading will seek answers to that question. We’ll report on the who, what and why of churches’ demise. We’ll give special attention to where the people have gone and what has happened to church property and assets.

Several scholars — people such as Richard Hughes, Stan Granberg and Jack Reese — have written about the changing theologies and sociology that may have precipitated this decline. Their work provides valuable context.

But what has happened to the churches — to the people who used to populate the pews and to the pews and the buildings that housed them?

Answering these questions is important and complicated. The number of churches affected almost certainly is higher than those identified by 21st Century Christian; forwarding addresses are hard to come by. But their story is important, not just for them, but for us.

Our team asks this of Chronicle readers who know of a congregation that has closed permanently or plans to do so: Email details to correspondent Cheryl Mann Bacon at [email protected], If you prefer, write to us at P.O. Box 11000, Oklahoma City, OK 73136-1100.

Thank you for reading and supporting the Chronicle! — Cheryl Mann Bacon, correspondent

Filed under: Big Questions Church buildings church closures Church decline Opinion Perspective Top Stories Views

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