In the case of St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church, near Pottstown, the heartbreaking news didn't come from a church official or some committee.
The church on Main Street - a tiny road leading to a dead end - had long ago become, as one member called, a small congregation of widows.
So the members of St. John's, themselves, voted to close it.
The constant scramble to pay the pastor and the electric bill would be over. The fruitless brainstorming to attract young people would stop.
On Tuesday, the Feast of the Epiphany, Pastor Susan Folks stood before her congregation for the last time. Over 100 people came to say goodbye, a crowd the size of which the church had seen only for funerals in recent years. About 30 regularly attended services.
"It's painful," Folks said before the service. "I'm trying not to feel responsible."
No one person should carry that burden, members have told Folks. After more than 70 years, St. John's fell victim to a constellation of demographic trends that close countless houses of worship each year, said Bishop Claire Burkat, leader of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Aging congregants, shifting levels of spiritual commitment, and competition for leisure time are all part of a cultural transformation that the church must change to keep up with, Burkat said.
St. John's members say they tried.
They hosted a popular vacation Bible school and numerous events for the neighborhood. Folks and her family tried to give the congregation more time. The pastor and her family purchased the church's parsonage to give the congregation money to pay its bills. But the money only gave them a year's worth.
In that time, the church also assessed its history and future.
St. John's was founded in 1942 as an offshoot of the former Transfiguration Evangelical Lutheran Church, to give congregants who lived south of the Schuylkill a closer place to worship. Then, the area was a thriving industry-rich region. St. John's became one of six Lutheran churches in a six-mile radius.
St. John's was the small church just outside the borough line in North Coventry Township, Chester County. Its stone building houses a pristine interior of white walls, pews, and an altar, with only 11 rows of seats on each side.
Jean John of Spring City belonged to the congregation for 64 years. Her family moved to the area when she was 11. She walked down a hill to church with her parents and sister.
Back then, a hundred people attended every week, said John, 75, a retiree who worked in nursing home administration.
"Most of the important events of my life have happened at this church," John said.
John had worked hard with other members to keep the church going as industry left and Pottstown's economic fortunes declined. Then in late June 2006, torrential rains drenched the area.
The subsequent floods damaged the church, parish hall, and parsonage.
"We lost tons of stuff," Folks said. Some members left too.
Those who remained struggled to clean up and continue the church's ministry and social outreach, including its role in a community homeless ministry.
Other programs designed to appeal to young families yielded few.
Ultimately, the church began to consider whether it was time to close the doors. In November, the vote was yes.
"We hated to face it," John said.
On Tuesday, John, and her best friend, Pat Leberman, 77, of Pottstown, stood at the church's back door, serving as ushers, welcoming members and guests to the last service. Two boxes of tissues sat on a stand near the entrance.
Leberman joined the church in 2001 after leaving Transfiguration, which closed about eight years ago.
"I'm almost afraid to go somewhere else, because I don't want to close them too," Leberman said.
The area's remaining Lutheran churches have arranged to hold tours for St. John's members looking for a new home.
In the church's farewell sermon, Burkat commended the congregation for its years of ministry and urged members to continue the work of the church.
Later, members presented liturgical items that St. John's is donating to other congregations. Its seven-foot wooden crucifix, which leads the town's annual Good Friday procession, is going to a nearby Presbyterian church.
"I declare this congregation, St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, to be closed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," Burkat said.
Then, Folks said goodbye with, "Go in peace."