A pastor invites me to meet with church leaders. An Area Conference Minister suggests that leaders meet with me. Meetings happen. I check for feedback. Sometimes I hear, “Some people think you were sent here to shut us down.” Or, “Some people think you were invited by people that want to shut the church down.” They might as well say what they are thinking: I’m a church killer.
I make allowances for people that are heartbroken, in pain, and maybe angry. I’m curious about what some people think motivates me to “kill churches.” Some think it is part of a Conference conspiracy to acquire assets from closing churches. This is easily enough dispensed with. There is no mechanism by which the Conference can acquire these assets. Churches always decide for themselves how to allocate their assets. I do think that the Conference can make good use of the assets, should churches decide to make support for other congregations their legacy or part of their legacy.
Perhaps some people think that I just don’t like their church. I am sometimes disappointed to learn that a congregation has turned its entire focus to the comfort and security of the remaining members. All churches care for their members, it is an important part of being a congregation, but there is more to being a church than this. Churches care for members so that members can love and serve God in varied ways, by working for a more compassionate, just, and peaceful world. This means focusing on people that are not members.
Here's how I see it. We have too many, too small churches. To be clear, not all small churches* are too small. The too small churches struggle with institutional maintenance: Caring for facilities that are too large and poorly configured to meet current needs and sustain staffing models and programs that they can no longer afford and that are no longer fruitful. These too small congregations don’t have enough time and energy for faith formation activities, for serving others, and for the hard work of adapting to a changing world.
What if we had fewer, more spiritually vital and financially viable congregations? What if we had fewer congregations and more focus on transforming lives? If congregations could consolidate, with the too small congregations joining the still large enough congregations to form stronger mission outposts for God, wouldn’t that be building a stronger church?
*There are many healthy small churches. Indeed, healthy small churches will be increasingly important to sustaining the Body of Christ.For a perspective on this, see A Guide to Being Smaller
A draft of this blog was reviewed by Dave Schoen, Minister for Church Legacy & Closure, UCC Church Building & Loan Fund. Dave shared some wisdom which has been incorporated into this blog, significantly enhancing it. Thanks, Dave!
Church Legacy Specialist Charlie Kuchenbrod is a resource for all UCC churches that are transitioning to the legacy stage of their lifecycle. Charlie Kuchenbrod has served the Southern New England Conference and prior to that the historic Connecticut...