Congregations have life cycles, just like people.
- Death… or…
- Renewal or Rebirth
No secrets here… most congregations are on the decline side of the curve. Few have imagined how many churches will die in the next decade.
So, let me speak to what I hope is a growing group of courageous champions.
It’s the rebirth and renewal group.
One subset of this group boldly discovers new vision from God. Focuses on the mission of making disciples. Builds unity and community. Inspires hope. Prays for the wind of the Spirit to blow. Navigates difficult changes. Creates spaces for people outside the faith to belong. Makes the difficult choices. Persists through seemingly overwhelming obstacles. And trusts God to accomplish what they know they cannot accomplish themselves.
The champions I want to lift up today fall into the other subset.
It’s the congregations that are just too far down the decline curve. Maybe hurt by lack of vision; little focus on God’s mission; insurmountable demographic shifts; conflict and division; leadership shortfalls; whatever…all of which may have been set in motion years earlier. (Those of us that have been there know how tough this can be.)
Oftentimes, they’re tired, few in number, resources exhausted, too close to death to rally.
And rather than simply extend the pattern and seek only to serve what’s left of a once vibrant past, they willfully–selflessly–with great courageous effort choose to close and direct their church building/remaining resources to a sister congregation or judicatory that promises to reinvest in the mission that once thrived in that community or neighborhood and birth a new ministry aligned with people in that community in its old building.
Most people don’t realize how selfless or courageous these folks are.
They don’t understand the natural tendency to simply bemoan our fate. Begrudgingly persist. Ignore the mission opportunity all around. Wonder why somehow someone doesn’t do something to prop them up or boost them forward.
I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. John 12:24
This courageous group pries loose their grip on “serving ourselves” and dares to lift their eyes toward their own harvest fields. They just know they can no longer accomplish it themselves. And they pray for a partner. They ask God to raise up a companion congregation that could pour themselves into a bold mission venture using their church building to work from and gather into.
These are the folks that can celebrate that with death can come resurrection to new life!
In part 2, (Making Courageous Choices) we’ll see some ways of what resurrection to new life can look like.