Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Would you close down churches?

Adam Hamilton from Church of the Resurrection shares an interesting observation of questions the UMC could ask from observing what's going on at GM. (Read the full post here.)

He suggests that if the UMC were to close "dead" or "dying" churches two things may occur:
1) The UMC could use the pastors and resources from those churches create new congregations
My two cents is that, although this would be heart-wrenching and difficult, done with grace, its the right thing to do.
2) Seminaries would be forced to shift the focus of their training
Currently, in my opinion, seminaries train students for models of ministry that are at least one generation behind the current generation - no wonder 18-35 year olds are the largest missing segment of the church.) This issue with the curriculum isn't necessarily theological. Rather as Hamilton points out, practical. Seminaries need to give students tools for leadership, dealing with conflict, managing budgets, running a meeting, in addition to worship and pastoral care skills.

Lastly, a commenter on the Hamilton's post raises another good point about the difference between shifting structure and shifting culture. So often we do the former without considering the latter. My hope is that we could do both in order to make the emphasis of the church to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world, not church members for the sustainability of the denomination who are really well organized.

So, what do you think? How does our structure need to shift? How does our culture need to shift? How do we make this happen - so that our denomination is about something bigger than itself - the mission of God in the world.


  1. we recently had to close one of the churches in the charge that I attend. It was really hard for some of the older members. But there were only 2 older ladies attending. It is scarry how few people are attending church recently. My church is in the country and only has 20 ppl on average - bit worried about its attendance. I sometimes wish they would hold the churches up more but at the same time, the church needs to be more accountable for the congregation and the community.

  2. I think we need to recognize that there are congregations in terminal decline, and they'd be better off dying gracefully than struggling against the inevitable. The question is whether or not the pastors that come from those churches will be the ones best equipped to start new worship communities (perhaps more shuffling would be needed). I think the UMC needs to look beyond the model of a large building with a large steeple on a large corner lot. It is a difficult and expensive model to maintain. I'm not saying that church buildings should disappear, but I would love to see us get back to the Wesleyan roots of taking the word to the people. Worship in coffee shops, sports bars, pizza parlors, strip malls, gyms, and parking lots is where I think we'll see the most innovative and invigorating growth in the church.

    OK, I'll step down off my milk crate and quit preachin'. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  3. Anonymous8:24 AM

    semper reformanada… Russ stay on your milk crate... venues change but the need to share God's love and grace is fixed

    Recently, as I sat in a polity course, a peer spoke of her experience closing a church I was saddened by what I heard. Not that the church closed, but the lack of care taken in the process. Grief is a process. Should one find themselves appointed to a church in critical transition (dying is not the word I would use) one must take care to move the congregation through the grieving process. When this is done well the congregation will accept their loss and be empowered to move themself and God’s Kingdom forward. Yes, churches will need to be closed... Let us do so with care.

  4. There is a transformation a big shift happening in the world at the moment, which will take a few years to complete the cycle. Churches will close for a few years. There will be a rebirth and revival.

  5. Yes, Russ, stay up on your milk crate for a little longer. I think you're onto something.