Friday, March 28, 2014
Can A Church Close?
My first congregation was located in a diminishing rural area, but after a year, we were growing. We began a youth group. Families and young members began attending. More people started commuting from the larger city to attend the church.What's wrong with this picture? It defines the church by its ability to support professional clergy, or at least staff. In an America that forces a congregation to also be a corporation, there are some important questions here, but changed a church's fiscal status is very different from "closing a church."
Then the local governing body put a minimum salary in place that was 10k above what I made. I applied for a grant that got me enough money for the next three years, but a struggle at the church arose between those who wanted to “go out with a bang” and those who wanted to hold onto the little bit in the bank account. There was an idea that having money in the bank was going to keep the church alive for an eternity. So I got a better job. (And yes, it was a better job at a more stable church. I don’t want to spiritualize it too much by saying it was God’s calling.)
When I look back, I’m sad about how it all went down. Not to overblow my importance, but it was as if the church didn’t buy the prescription medicine that they needed to live well, because it would cost too much. The medicine was too risky. Instead they figured they would live with the disease for a longer time. They couldn’t get beyond that fear of losing the church in order to spend money on ministry.
Lots of people have lots of ideas about what a church is and is not , and they cling to all sorts of things involved with the package that is a church. I have watched many churches go through many transitions and some have done much better than others. There is but one factor I have been able to lay my finger on that tells the tale of who does it well and who does not. That factor is the understanding of the members of the congregation that the church is about each other - not staff, structures or programs.
Perspective matters. With such an understanding, changes in staff, facilities or programs are secondary. You shut down the corporation and the people will still find a way to be together and support each other. ANy staff member, clerical or lay, that is not workign to build a congregation that will survive heir tenure, is doing it wrong.