The Center for Transformational Leadership would like to introduce a new feature in our newsletter. As you may know, in addition to leadership development, innovation conversations, small church support, etc., we are also called to encourage, resource, and accompany churches that are in a time of discernment. This can be especially helpful when that means discerning opportunities for renewal or the need for a completion of ministry. Charlie Kuchenbrod is a consultant and resource person for the Conference and is an expert on accompanying churches who are considering completing their ministry and building a legacy within their communities; he has recently created a blog series on the topic: Building A Legacy – Learning, Discerning, and Leaning-In. Below is the first installment about why discernment and legacy conversations are essential activities for every church during their lifecycle.
Building A Legacy – Learning, Discerning, and Leaning-In
Part 1: Who is this series for? When should churches start thinking about legacies?
Who is this series for? Every church! When should churches start thinking about legacies? If a church has not started thinking about its legacy, it should start now! Taking up this exercise periodically, as a collective faith practice and spiritual discipline, will help all churches, whether their spiritual vitality is strong and financial viability is secure or the church is experiencing decline.
Some churches have or hope to have many years ahead of them. Some New England churches are more than three hundred years old, which certainly justifies a long-term horizon. On the other hand, none of the churches Paul wrote epistles to are still around. Many ancient churches throughout the world only survive as museums. We shouldn’t think of churches as immortal, but as living entities that are enhanced or diminished over time.
Conversations about legacies can shape your present. The Rev. Kenneth Samuel, Pastor of Victory for the World Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia, is a Still Speaking Daily Devotional contributor. He wrote: “Hope is not just a vision for the future. Hope is also a mandate for the present. Hope has a way of ordering our present in such a way that our present becomes congruent and consistent with our promise.” Thinking about your legacy is a way of articulating your greatest hopes and an important step towards realizing your dreams.
To be specific: If your church is experiencing decline in the traditional metrics of membership, worship attendance, and financial support, if your membership is aging, and especially if you are consuming assets to sustain congregational life, you are heading into a time of transformation. The transformation may open new paths to vitality and viability. The transformation may happen through the completion of the current ministry and a resurrection experience. It is time to start thinking about your legacy. It is time to think about how to “live well” with the remaining time that you have and what a resurrection transformation might look like.
If you are not going to be viable as an independent congregation, there are options. These are all options for successful completion of a ministry. None of these options are failures.
Even if your church is vital and viable you may want to think about Legacy churches in a different way: How can your congregation help minister to Legacy Churches. We are all a part of the Body of Christ.
I imagine that God sees the church as an ecosystem, perhaps as a forest. Individual trees have life cycles and the health of the forest rests on having trees in each stage of life. This includes trees that die, providing open space and nutrients so that new trees – and the entire forest – can thrive. Churches are like trees in a ‘Body of Christ Forest’. The Body of Christ needs churches in every stage of the life cycle and even the churches that die by completing their ministries are an essential part of the whole, providing open space and resources for new expressions of God’s love to develop.