Once Upon a Time – The Sad Tale of a Church that had No Legacy Plan

once upon a time - a legacy parable

Once Upon a Time – The Sad Tale of a Church that had No Legacy Plan

Written By Phil Kell

Once Upon a Time – The Sad Tale of a Church that had No Legacy Plan

Once upon a time, in the mid-1950s, First Baptist Church of Anywhere emerged from the efforts of humble, hardworking families determined to spread the message of Christ in their community. Those early days were filled with challenges and excitement as they baptized new believers and nurtured their faith. The Sunday services were truly remarkable, filled with the Spirit and many lives were blessed. 

The church family thrived throughout the 1970s and 1980s, but as the new century dawned, attendance started to decline. Despite the dwindling numbers, the older generation held on to fond memories and prayed for a revival. In an attempt to engage a younger audience, the church changed its name to Hope Community Church in the early 2000s, but this move did not bring the desired results. 

With the passing of time, the older generation of churchgoers began to dwindle, leaving only a few dedicated members. Seeking stability, they hired a pastor in his retirement years, lacking the energy and vision to revitalize the church. The congregation contented themselves with barely surviving, renting out their facilities to two smaller churches to sustain their pastor and cover utility bills. 

As financial struggles persisted, an idea was born – to sell the church property and invest the proceeds to support the pastor for several more years. Alternatively, they considered donating the property to the pastor’s evangelism ministry, which aimed to spread the gospel. 

The decision was made, and the property was sold. However, within a few short years, the money was gone, and what was once a thriving church became a mere memory in the minds of a few faithful but aging members. 

This story is a familiar one. In fact, this parabolic story, with its variations, has played out hundreds of times across California over the past three decades. Church properties worth millions, even hundreds of millions, were lost due to a lack of foresight and proper planning. 

But amidst these tales of loss, there are also stories of churches that have thrived thanks to prudent legacy planning.  

So, what is a legacy plan? 

A legacy plan is a purposeful and documented strategy for the future of a church’s property and assets in the event of dissolution or a decline in membership. Just as families need God-honoring estate plans, churches require God-honoring legacy plans. Like estate planning, legacy planning is a matter of stewardship for churches and should be put in place before the need arises

A comprehensive legacy plan involves reviewing the church’s Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws, as well as title documents for the real property. A church legacy consultant can assist with this process and suggest various planning options, such as amendments to the governing documents or implementing deed restrictions. Additionally, the consultant may discuss revitalization efforts, church mergers, or as a last resort, transferring the property to another church, local association, or State Convention to plant a new church on the site. 

For churches in California, representatives from the California Southern Baptist Convention, the Baptist Foundation of California, and local associations are available to provide guidance and support in creating a legacy plan. 

Though not always easy, legacy planning is crucial for ensuring a church’s lasting impact. If you feel called to preserve a thriving legacy for future generations of believers, take the time to talk to the Lord about it and consider reaching out to a church legacy consultant. The difference you make can be immeasurable, and generations to come will be grateful for your foresight and dedication. For assistance, you can reach out at (559) 323-3558, where I am available to help numerous churches develop God-honoring legacy plans. 

About the Author

Phil Kell
Planned Giving and Legal Consultant, CSBC

Phil Kell serves as the Planned Giving and Legal Consultant for the California Southern Baptist Convention. He holds a Bachelor of Science from California State University Sacramento, a Juris Doctorate from the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law, as well as a Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa) from California Baptist University. He and his wife, Debbie, have been married for almost 50 years, and together they have 4 daughters and 7 grandchildren. Phil and Debbie are members of Woodward Park Baptist Church in Fresno, California

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