The following is taken from Presence, which is particularly written for rural contexts, but much of this will be useful in other contexts.

The traditional term used in the Methodist Church to justify the closure of buildings is ‘failure of cause’. This is too negative an interpretation of what is happening in our rural communities and rather suggests that there is no alternative way forward. How can circuits and churches respond positively to those situations where our traditional building-centred presence is no longer sustainable?


In some rural circuits further closure of Methodist buildings will be necessary but only in the most exceptional circumstances will the decision to close a chapel need to be taken urgently. If we are to be faithful to the Methodist policy of "promoting an effective Christian presence in villages" then it is important that time is given to asking important questions and exploring alternative patterns.

  • What consultations within the Methodist circuit and district need to take place?

When there is the possibility of a chapel closure the Circuit and District should be a part of the review process from the earliest stage. A variety of alternative possibilities should be explored. The District Policy Committee should always deal sympathetically and supportively with circuits where such an exploration is being taken seriously. Congregations exploring the possibility of the closure of a building must be encouraged not to feel a sense of failure or guilt.

  • Which ecumenical partners need to be consulted?

Every denomination is struggling to maintain a witness in rural areas. We need to work in close co-operation to make sure that we are not wasting our resources. We need to develop and maintain a common approach towards the realisation of ‘an effective Christian presence in villages’ There should be effective consultation with all the Christian traditions represented in the area.

  • How are we to consult with the local community?

How will others perceive the closure of the Methodist chapel? How are we going to explain the reasons behind it? Are there Christians within the community who have not felt able to share in the life of the existing church but who might welcome the opportunity of a new beginning?

Looking to the future
  • How is the local authority development plan going to affect the village?

Is there going to be a development of new housing? Are there any plans for the development of ‘one stop centres’ for the delivery of local services – if so, does our building offer an ideal centre? A village audit would reveal needs and services that the building might be able to accommodate eg shop, meeting rooms, clinic, post office, cyber café. In such circumstances, could the building also continue to be the base for a worshipping congregation?

  • What future is there for other centres of Christian presence in the village?

Can Christian witness and presence be left in the care of another denomination or is that denomination equally vulnerable? What conversations have taken place?

  • Is there a possibility that a building will be needed in the future?

Selling the building or putting it to an alternative use is not the only option. Sometimes it may be appropriate to "mothball" the building or to demolish the building and retain ownership of the site. It is difficult to re-enter a village once we have lost the building and/or site.

Selling the building

Sometimes the best way forward will be to sell the building. If we are to act in the best interests both of Christian mission and our responsibility as trustees, then there are still further decisions to be made.

  • Is this the best time to sell?

If there is to be housing development then property values might be set to rise. An examination of the local development plan may reveal changes that will affect property values eg the building of a by-pass. Where a community is growing there may be a need for a church building in the future.

  • Is the building best sold with or without planning permission for change of use, development etc.?

The Connexional Property Committee can help and advise. Please consult before coming to a decision. Planning permission for change of use is likely to enhance sale value.

  • How can the proceeds of sale best be used to promote an effective Christian presence in villages?
Maintaining a Christian presence
  • Who will offer Christian worship, mission and service within the community following the closure of the Methodist building?

The Church is called to be a priestly, prophetic and evangelising presence. Human communities need such a presence at their heart if they are to be healthy and whole. If we withdraw,

  • who is going to pray for this community?
  • Who is going to offer worship on behalf of all its people?
  • Who is going to demonstrate the power of the gospel to reconcile and heal?
  • Who will tell the story to future generations?
  • Is this an opportunity to explore a new pattern of Christian presence in the community? For some who are seeking to explore Christian spirituality our traditional buildings and a way of discipleship that is pre-occupied with the maintenance of buildings is an Too often our vision is limited to a building centred presence. Many of our faithful congregations have been oppressed by the burden of keeping a building open or by the weight of duty and loyalty to the past. Maybe the closure of the building is an opportunity for the group to be set free.

The closure of a traditional building can be the opportunity to develop new patterns of presence. A presence focussed on the village hall, school, in homes or in the buildings of other denominations are all possibilities that need to be explored. There may already be an alternative pattern of Christian presence eg a Christian house group. Could this group now accept the privilege and responsibility of being the priestly, prophetic and evangelising presence? Can we offer them the recognition, fellowship, oversight and discipline of the wider church? Maintaining a presence without a building is not without its difficulties, particularly in a rural commuter village with a high turnover of population. What resources, help and support can the wider church give?

  • What arrangements for on-going pastoral care of the community need to be made?

If withdrawal is the only possibility, what arrangements will be made not only for the elderly, vulnerable and sick of the existing Christian community but for the wider community and for future generations? How will we help those people in the community who have supported the chapel ‘from a distance’ but for whom it has been a ‘sacred space’ to come to terms with its closure?

Marking and celebrating the past so that we can embrace the future 

Where a building is closed, a church ‘ceases to worship’, or a new pattern of Christian presence is adopted there should be a worthy celebration of all that is past.

There are legacies of personal, family and community history that must not be overlooked. Where a cause is closing because of frailty and illness, thanksgiving for faithfulness over the years should be publicly offered. Where a new form of Christian presence is being developed, the debt to past Christian witness should still be marked and celebrated. As in any experience of loss there needs to be an appropriate rite of passage. Only when we have properly grieved our loss can we be free to embrace the future. Rather than marking the ‘failure of the cause’ we need to celebrate ‘a cause whose purpose has been fulfilled’.