Well, we finally did it. We put together an emergency plan. It’s not airtight, or written down, but it’s a floating agreement between me and my husband in case of a future attack. We don’t have all the supplies we need, but we have a stash of clean water, and the duct tape’s on the grocery list….
Lest you think we’re paranoid, my church is a few blocks from the White House, and a stone’s throw from the State Department and the Saudi Arabian Embassy. Our daughter goes to school in Arlington. She’s a ways from the Pentagon…but still.
When we were putting this strategy together, we had to imagine the worst catastrophes happening near my office, on the subways, or near the school, and what would be a level headed response. As an optimistic thinker who goes through life always expecting the best, this was difficult. But, we both knew it was necessary. Around here, you’ve simply got to have a plan.
A little later, I went to a gathering with my writing group. For some reason, we talked a lot about the denomination. I was still swallowing the yearly stats. Especially the one that says 78% of our churches are made up of 150 members or less (stats come from the Outlook, but they’re difficult to link, because of their registration system).
We know that God works in small churches, we know that numbers don’t reflect how the Holy Spirit moves in a particular congregation. However, we can also deduce from those numbers that nearly 80% of congregations in my denomination are having a really tough time supporting a pastor. And I’ve never heard of a church thriving without a minister.
Is it time for an emergency plan?
Here are the first three steps in my plan:
(1) Support and plant small (ex)urban churches. Young adults (on the whole) don’t like megachurches. What do we like? Research shows that we’re drawn to small, traditional congregations. This is great news for the mainliners. We have a plethora of small, traditional churches in our denominations, so we’re perfect for meeting the needs of young adults.
Unfortunately, young adults are also moving out of rural areas. They have to be in or near cities, because that’s where the jobs are. But, this fact also presents more good news, because this matches the migration of new young ministers. Most of us have to be in places where our spouse can get a job (if we’re married) or where we can have a life (if we’re single). (My apologies to rural church leaders, if that last statement offended you. I loved pastoring my rural church, but I can’t imagine trying to date in Abbeville, Louisiana.)
(2) Support dynamic pastors. We all know really amazing pastors who are in difficult churches where their ministries are trapped. Nominating committees overlook them because they’re too young, too old, single, not the right gender, not white enough, etc., etc. Or they may be geographically bound because of their spouse’s job. In the midst of these obstacles, can we still make sure that our fine leadership flourishes?
In our emergency situation, we can no longer let dynamic pastors flounder. If there’s no place for them in current congregations, we can make a space for them, and make sure that they’re paid well.
(3) Get creative with real estate. Our hulking church dinosaur buildings are eating up entire city blocks. Their energy inefficiencies are destroying our environment and leaving congregations with whopping gas bills and continual maintenance headaches. We come together to worship God in massive spaces that are designed to reflect the grandeur and glory of Creator, but too often they echo failure because there are so many empty pews.
But we can begin designing architecture that’s beautiful and energy efficient. We can become savvy with our land, and figure out how to lease it, sell it, or at least use it for a community garden.
Wow. I’ve gone on way too long, and I didn’t even begin to touch upon all the new opportunities we have as congregations regarding social activism, the peace movement, vital spiritual disciplines, or new technologies. And what would you add?
I guess that even while constructing an emergency plan, I can’t help but be excited by this amazing, unique moment in history.