Study that I have been doing on local churchworld…findings are interesting and challenging

Discussion on the sustainability and future of our church

 A.  Dynamics:

1.  The Congregational Life Cycle – NO institution is Immortal.  Studies are showing that the average life cycle of a local church is approximately 60 to 70 years (and that does not take into account cultural, sociological dynamics).









2 – Legacy/Heritage Congregations  (those reaching the top 20% of the life cycle) need to be asking a biblical question, “can these bones live?” In other words, is it possible to transition an existing church that is in the final stages of its life cycle OR is "replanting" the only viable strategy?  (Hint – explore the Ezekiel text about DRY BONES – it is an excellent metaphor for this discussion)

3 – The buzz word these days is "Millennials."  No group wants to be hyper-analyzed.  I've seen arguments on both sides of the spectrum…the scope of anticipated connecting/relational points often is contradictory and detrimental to actually building real relationships with Millennials and NOT treating them in a monolithic manner.  It is true though that young people these days see themselves as free agents who are strong on social conscience but resistant to any institutionally based religious journey.

4 – The reality of the 21st century is that the "mega-church" is here to stay.  There is a Programmatic attraction to large churches based on and fueled by consumeristic realities that is hard to deny and even harder to overcome for smaller faith communities.

5 – There is a growing Reality of congregational economics – sooner or later smaller congregations will not be economically viable.  The true cost of "overhead" expenses (building, maintenance, even one staff member) will eventually drive any local church below 75 out of business.

6 – Reality of congregation narratives – every church in any town has a narrative – what is that narrative?  What do people know about your church?  Do they know anything?  If so, what?  If not, why not?

7 – Uniqueness of setting – every setting is unique.  Urban, suburban, rural…these geographic realities make an impact on congregations.  We have discovered that Monroe is NOT a rapidly growing municipality and because of that cannot depend on a rising population base to build local church adherents.  

8 – The truth is that many churches and people in those congregations don’t have an accessible faith.  The perceived boundary markers are exclusive, non-relational, and known for rigidity.  

9 – Protecting a legacy or past acceptable ministry paradigms trumps empowering new leaders and stonewalls essential and necessary change.

10 – Ministry that is focused on management instead of equipping and releasing will have a shorten shelf life.

11 – To repeat  a KEY reality – congregations are NOT immortal – consider that as you study life-cycles.  The Body of Jesus is immortal…our expression of that reality is NOT.

Cultural issues – issues that have an impact on local churchworld:

1 – Rise of progressivism and secularism (loss of Christocentric worldview)

2 = “Mainline” is no longer mainline – emergence of evangelicalism

3 – Marginalization of the Religious experience

4 – Sociological Pigeon-holing of Christian experience (conservative, right wing, bigots, haters, etc.)

5 – Post-Modern and Post-Christendom and Post-Institutionalism and Post-Denominationalism realities

5 – Casual Christianity is “out” in a Post-Christendom culture

6 – Rise of the “I’m spiritual just not religious” paradigm

7 – 72% of culture say that religion is losing influence on people

8 – MOST churches (since a vast majority are under 100) have lost a sense of HOW to disciple (do mission)

9 – Ethnic diversity and “homogenization” of church (perceived Eurocentricism and/or Colonialism, in other words, mission “at the point of a gun”)

10 – Reality of the power of MOVEMENTS (vs. “monuments”)

B.  In studying your church, do your own statistical analysis:

Here is a sample of what I did at Peace – Stats:

  • 46-50 Worship Weekly – 4 under 50 and 4 children
  • 25 Worship 2 x month – 5 under 50 and 6 children
  • 37 Worship Monthly – 10 under 50 and 11 children
  • 50 Infrequents
  • 15 Never show up
  • 0 people under 50 years of age in bible classes
  • Average attendance over the past year has dropped to around 70 (Easter @ 200 and Christmas @ 200 are about the same as past five years).  Reasons for drop – moving, age issues, family busy-ness
  • Net total in worship – 108 – 17% under 50 in given month (19 adults and 21 children)

C.  I then surveyed a majority of the churches in our city – Monroe Churches

  • Three growing numerically – one Church (0-100 in 3 years); another (80-200 in 3 years) and another (DNA of Church planting)
  • Most all the remaining churches are in the same boat (most between 20 and 120 people with similar dynamics)
  • The narrative of the Covenant church and “Take the Next Step” – multiple ministries that have engaged the community (homelessness, food, social services) have not impacted church attendance (missional work is Kingdom work NOT that which guarantees numerical growth)

D.  Key Questions to answer:

1 – What is God’s Mission?  What is our mission?  Why do we exist as a congregation?  What is God doing here?  What is God doing that He isn’t doing anywhere else?

2 – Is what we are doing now sustainable?  Are we sustainable?  Should we be sustainable?  How would the Kingdom or "your" Community be impacted if we as a congregation didn’t exist? 

3 – Where do you think your church SHOULD BE on the life cycle chart?

4 – Are we in decline, dropout, or death?  Why? 

5 – What are the circumstances in our congregation that concern you?

6 – If our church were to close, what would you be afraid of losing?

7 – What is the worst-case scenario for our church?

8 – How can we minister to each other as we answer these questions?

9 – What do people perceive when they enter our building?  What “age” does it communicate?  Is that helpful or harmful in your opinion?

10 – Do you think our church is a healthy congregation?  Why or why not?

11 – Jesus talked about bearing fruit…are we being fruitful?  How? 

12 – Why do we do Sunday services?  If people stop coming, is that noticed?  What if we cut all programs, how would people respond?  Are we just a provider of religious goods and services?  What is the purpose of a program?  Is what we are doing central to the mission of God and engagement in that mission? 

E.  Here are some Possibilities that we at Peace are entertaining(either one choice or combinations):

1 – MORE Accessible Worship experience/Church community – dropping or eliminating or altering much of our “denominational” barriers to having an accessible worship experience/community (see below).

2 – Remodeling facility – making the facility MORE hospitable (we have an aged facility)

3 – Employing a diversified ministry “portfolio” – expanding our preschool numerically, starting a Community Center ministry with Youth For Christ, and having our the emphasis of our building use NOT focused primarily on our Worship Community but on some Entrepreneurial effort, generating multiple income streams

4 – Moving toward BI-vocational pastoral leadership

5 – YOU WILL NOTICE – we can’t stay as is – I have to be a person that engages the congregation for the purpose of CHANGE and TRANSFORMATION – they are going to be our congregation’s reality as we move into the future.

F.  Some broader issues that every faith community must address:

  • Rather than providing pastoral care, we should be building a culture and supporting structures so that our people care for each other.
  • Rather than providing spiritual food, we should be equipping our people to access God’s Word and receive food from Jesus directly.
  • Rather than making people into clients for what we provide, we should be making disciples who can in turn go and make disciples.  We can do this by ‘pruning’ out a lot of the management we do, and then start living the life. We form a core community, live life-on-life and reach out to others to bring them into the Kingdom. Like Jesus, we identify and call a group of disciples to go on a mission.
  • Discipleship happens best relationally … very little change happens through compliance change.  

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