By Rev. Rick King
(This column is part of a series on church vitality.)
It’s surprising, but current data shows about 80 percent of churches today are stuck or in decline—liberal and conservative, mainline or evangelical Protestant, and Catholic.
It usually takes time and a great deal of prayer, skill, and hard work, but churches do indeed turn around. People in the Minnesota Conference can point to “miracles” like the turnarounds of St. Paul’s UCC and Olivet Congregational UCC in St. Paul as evidence that inexorable decline and death are not a given.
But, how do churches turn it around? What really needs to happen for a dying church to experience revitalization? It’s not simply a matter of doing what we’ve always done, better. Without addressing three questions first, no church can make the shifts necessary to come back from the dead:
Why do we exist as a church?
Where is God calling us to go in the future?
How do we get there?
FHC addressed these questions in the interim period, and our work in the Crossroads program builds on this important work.
One of the most significant shifts a church can make in its thinking is from being inwardly-focused to being outwardly-focused. It’s the natural pull of churches to become more and more inwardly-focused over time. The relationships in congregations become close because you share life’s ups and downs, milestones like births and deaths, marriage and divorce, illness, career shifts, you name it. We’re on the receiving end of such love and support that at times, it can seem like church is primarily here for US.
But is church really only here for those who are already part of it?
What of those who’ve never experienced community like this? Or those who were hurt by a church and are taking tentative steps back, and we’re the first church where they’ve felt acceptance? What about reconnecting with our immediate neighborhood? What are their needs?
Above all, the jaw-dropping question is this: If our church closed or moved away tomorrow, would people miss us?
At the same time as we experience the love and care we receive as insiders in this congregation, we need to be asking, “Who else needs this who is not already a part of the congregation?”
Of what help can we be to the neighborhood?
So, if you’re not already doing so, may I invite you to begin asking questions like these in 2019?