BUILDING A LEGACY: Learning, Discerning, and Leaning In | Part 9: How Will We Know When It's Time?

BUILDING A LEGACY: Learning, Discerning, and Leaning In | Part 9: How Will We Know When It's Time?

Completing a ministry faithfully and well is often a two-step process.  The first step is the choice to become a legacy church.  The second step has two parts: Choosing an ending date for worship and choosing a target date for winding down the institutional aspects of the church.  Churches that avoid these decisions usually end up making these two choices concurrently.  They only choose to become a legacy church when they choose the ending date for worship.  I think this is the more challenging path.
These decisions can be and should be sacred moments.  Congregations exist in covenant with God and God is a part of the process.  Welcome God with prayer and be open to God’s presence.
The time for the first decision is when a congregation recognizes that fruitfulness and energy levels are low.  While financial considerations may be a driver, financial challenges are usually a symptom of decline, not its cause. The choice now is whether to commit to revitalization or to turn to legacy building.  Revitalization is hard work and means embracing change.  Even if there is energy and commitment to this path, it may not be successful.  Revitalization may depend as much or more on the congregation’s setting as on the congregation.  Your congregation may already have attempted revitalization without success.  Accepting and celebrating the legacy building option is not failing.
If your congregation has prayerfully discerned that the legacy building option is the right choice, then what?  While there may not be enough energy for revitalization, there may be enough energy to keep the ministry going, at least for a while.  Legacy building can begin, but how does a congregation know when it is time to choose ending dates?
It is time to assess the costs and joys of congregational life.  Among the costs are the time and energy it takes to maintain buildings, programs and to administer the affairs of the church.  Costs might also include managing conflicts or, worse, struggling with indifference.  Are there enough people to equitably share these costs?  How do these costs compare with the joys of worship, fellowship, serving and the joy of fruitful activities?  How does this equation look in comparison to the alternative of continuing faith journeys in another setting?
Maybe another clue is when thinking about setting ending dates comes with a sense of relief - that we can let go of the ministry and trust that the Body of Christ will continue. 
There may be holdouts.  In fact, there may be some people that will never accept that the moment is right.  These people deserve compassion, but they don’t deserve veto power when most people are ready to move on.  Most often, there will be a collective realization that the moment is right. 
One last thought. If people fail to say what they are thinking, whether out of fear, shame, or perhaps even compassion, the congregation may get stuck.  Honest discernment and authentic conversation depend on people sharing what is on their hearts and minds.   Courage and the willingness to be vulnerable are important.  Perhaps courage and vulnerability are what invites God into the process and makes the process sacred.
Subscribe to our emails
Massachusetts Office

1 Badger Road
Framingham, MA 01702

Connecticut Office

805 Old Main St.
Rocky Hill, CT 06067

Toll Free Phone: 866-367-2822
Fax: 866-367-0860
General Email: