As the new pastor, after a couple of months into the job, I’m given the list. Sometimes it’s short, sometimes it’s long. It contains the names of people who have been angry at the church and left.
I hate that list.
It’s made up of a painful history of nasty grudges and hurt feelings. Sometimes the presenting issue is how the previous pastor said something rude to them, or how the church matriarch treated their wife, or how the denomination stands on a particular issue, or how the nominating committee hired a woman.
I sigh deeply and receive the list, because I believe in reconciliation. Then sometime on Thursday afternoon, when I can’t possibly put it off any longer, I call the disaffected few. I try to set up meetings.
I do all that I can. I’m very flexible. I never expect them to come to me, at the church. I’m up for a home visit, a coffee shop meeting, or whatever can be arranged.
Yet, I can rarely get a date.
It’s important to try, but we all know it’s near impossible. Once the damage is done, there can be reconciliation, but there’s hardly ever a renewal of membership.
If churches are looking for new members, the list is not the place to find them.
And, in the same sort of way, I wonder about church revitalization efforts. You know, when we take dying churches, inject good leadership and a bit of cash into them so that they might live again.
We’ve all seen it happen successfully. I’ve worked at two churches that have changed the course of declining membership and began growing with new life and vitality. I loved serving in the midst of it. My current congregation is a resurrection story, for sure. And there are stories of transformation all over our area.
Yet, as my friend Jan (who has an amazing gift for revitalizing) always says, “Transformation takes time.” As I reflect on the years of difficult work that it takes to turn congregations around, I wonder if we, the larger church, are putting our resources in the right places. Perhaps we should put more energy into planting new fields, rather than pouring so much into forcing the tired ones to become productive.
This is my dream:
As we close more of our congregations, we put all the resources into planting new churches.
Seminaries could focus more training and programs on planting new churches, beginning in the MDiv, but also in DMins and Continuing Education programs.
The training would include a strong emphasis on Web 2.0 possibilities and problems, with a serious understanding that people think differently in a connected generation.
The training would not just be taught by those flashy guys who are really good at presenting demographic data, but by people who have successfully planted churches.
We could take the environment seriously as we plan new buildings. Making sure that our worship spaces are beautifully designed, and using the best technology to make them energy efficient.
New church pastors could be paid well. At least well enough to support a house and family in the locale of the plant, and they would have a guarantee of income for X amount of years.
What would you add?
The photo’s by Famous Potatoes. Genius. They just don’t make gargoyles like they used to.