By Rev. Craig Pederson, Assistant to the Bishop
In a blog post earlier this summer, I talked about the joys of working with congregations to identify their sources of vitality. But, for some congregations, vitality is more of a fading memory than a present reality.
The members of these congregations still faithfully attend worship and teach children about God’s love in Sunday school (if they have any children left in the church). They gather for Bible studies and potlucks, and occasionally engage in outreach ministries like school supply drives or Habitat for Humanity projects.
But there are fewer members in these churches today. Newcomers are infrequent and tend not to stick around. Aging buildings demand a greater percentage of shrinking budgets. Despite earnest ministry efforts and intentional prayers, congregational decline seems irreversible.
It’s hard for these churches not to feel like they’ve failed. In retrospect, they may have made some ministry decisions along the way that contributed to the challenges they face now. But, even churches that made all the “right” decisions may be facing an uncertain future.
Even churches that made all the “right” decisions may be facing an uncertain future.
CHURCHES, LIKE ALL organizations (and like all humans!), have a life cycle. Perhaps not coincidentally, the average life span of a church is approximately the same as a human: 70 to 100 years. (Okay, 100 is a lot for a human, but there are more centenarians all the time!)
But, we don’t talk much about the reality that churches die. Some churches age gracefully, but do not adapt to changes in culture, demographics, and socioeconomic trends. Eventually they find themselves asking difficult questions about their purpose and feasibility. They respond by dying and closing their doors, or dying to their isolation and partnering with another congregation, or dying and giving birth to a new ministry.
Some older churches are thriving today. While they may not have “died” literally, they made significant changes at one or more points in their histories that moved them beyond their founding mission and identity.
“If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8). We are the Lord’s Resurrection people, and we are called to be Resurrection churches! As old systems, structures, and habits die, be assured that Christ is already working on a new creation!