Changing the Narrative: Moving from “Decline, Failure, Closure, and Death” to “Maturity, Legacy Building, Ministry Completion, and Resurrection.”
In the first part of this two-part blog, I described how the narrative of decline leading to failure, leading to closure, which means death, was problematic. First, it is not faithful, because it does not see God as still being at work in the congregation. This leads to missed opportunities. Second, it leads to poor stewardship choices, as assets are consumed to support a way of “doing church” that is no longer fruitful. I don’t think that this pleases God.
There is a better way. We need to start telling ourselves a different story. We need to create a new shared narrative. We can do this by adopting new images. Churches are not declining, they are becoming mature. Churches are not failing, they are moving from active ministry to legacy building. Churches are not closing, they are completing their ministries. Finally, instead of seeing closure as death and the end of the story, seeing death as leading to resurrection, not an ending, but a radical transformation.
Maturity, not decline. All organisms reach maturity: People, trees, …. Even inanimate things reach maturity: Mountain ranges, software programs. While maturity means the end of some kinds of growth, there are often gifts in maturity. Rather than focusing on decline we need to focus on the gifts. What do we celebrate from our past? What do we look forward to, even if the future may be limited?
Legacy building, not failure. A gift of maturity is the ability to think about legacies. What impact have we had on the world? How can we continue to have an impact on the world? What do we want that impact to be? What gives us meaning and purpose? What will please God? If we aren’t going to live forever, how do we make the time we have as impactful as possible? These questions work for both people and for congregations. Discipleship is an individual and a collective journey.
Ministry completion, not closure. Buildings close, companies close, but churches are more than buildings and legal constructs. Of course, some churches do close, some of them with more pain and suffering than there should be or needs to be. Instead, churches need to focus on ministry completion, the orderly conclusion of activities in a way that honors and celebrates what good has been done, and in a way that creates new paths for good things to continue to be done.
Resurrection, not death. Resurrection is not resuscitation. Resurrection is a radical transformation from what came before. Congregations that use the gifts of maturity to build a legacy and complete there ministries faithfully and well will continue to be a part of the Body of Christ, even if the congregation that was once alive is no more.
This new narrative directly addresses the problems with the narrative of decline, failure, closure, and death. This story invites us to see the ways that God is still at work in the congregation. This story also helps us to make better stewardship decisions and to use assets inherited from earlier generations is more fruitful ways
Jesus changed the narrative of what a life connected to God should be like. If we are on the Way with Jesus, if we are disciples on a faith journey, changing the narrative is the narrative!
Charlie is Legacy Church Specialist for the Southern New England Conference.