Closing congregations can bring new life to our neighbors in need. Grace Lutheran Church of Needham, Massachusetts may have shuttered their doors, but they opened their hearts, and the impact on others is priceless.

Closing congregations: Bringing new life after death

  • Niki Clark
  • Jan 26, 2024

As with many things in life, God often places the right people in the right situation in God’s perfect timing.

Such was the situation with Grace Lutheran Church of Needham, Massachusetts, a congregation with a storied 70-year history. Since 2019, Pastor Elizabeth Nees had headed the church. In addition to being a lifelong Lutheran, with a passion for combatting injustice, Pastor Elizabeth is an accredited Professional Certified Coach. She works with groups and individuals at significant crossroads in their lives. So, when conversations about closing first started, she was the perfect leader to help her beloved congregation consider their future.

Discussions around merging with other congregations led nowhere since it wasn’t geographically viable. After a 13-month discernment process, the decision to close was made. Grace Lutheran held its last service in September and donated $250,000 to Lutheran World Relief.

“We knew if we closed, we could share an incredible amount of resources with organizations that we had supported over the decades,” Pastor Elizabeth said.

Why Lutheran World Relief?

“Our congregation knew LWR from a hands-on perspective. A few years back, our youth had led us in an LWR School Kit challenge where we filled 50 backpacks. When we brought it to the local Ingathering, we saw this collective thing we were part of. What we did felt small, but we were part of something bigger than ourselves. It was very important to our members that we gave to a global organization that would use the money in line with our values. Trust was a large part of the decision.”

What insights would you share with other congregations?

“My first piece of advice is not to closing congregations, but for those thriving or a long way from struggling. Every congregation should have a legacy plan. Institutions aren’t always around forever and that’s okay. We learned too late that the process took more time than we had, but having a plan allows you to better align your values with your future.

“To those closing, having been through this, I can humbly say we died well. It doesn’t mean there wasn’t grief. As Christians we know death is never the end of our story, instead death brings new life. The church itself will never die. It may transform, congregations may close, it might not look like we thought it would. But even if we never see it, our church and the gift we made in closing will make such life-changing impacts for others. It’s living on still.”

To learn more about how closing congregations can help our neighbors in need around the world, visit

Niki Clark, Jan 26, 2024 email