Recently, folks across the region of the denomination that I will be ordained into in a couple of months were asked the question:  “What do you understand your parish’s  goals/priorities to be at this time?”

If you scan their responses (I’ve pasted them to the end of this post), you’ll notice that almost all of the answers are about 1) buildings 2) fiscal debt or 3) scarcity of people.

At a recent gathering of the same denomination, the numbers person reported on the numerical health of those same parishes.  I can summarize her report by two words: decline and deficit  (you can watch the report here starting at about the 4 hour 26 minute mark until 4: 32 if you don’t believe me).

On the surface, this is not good news.

Millennial Pastor has attempted to address the root of this and has written what I believe to be an important post on The Issue at the Core of Our Decline.  I commend the whole article to you, whatever ‘tribe’ or ‘expression’ of the Church you find yourself in.

I think he nails it when he says this:

…If getting people to church is the chief concern, then we will always be looking to draw people in.

But if following Jesus, and letting people know about this gracious, merciful and compassionate God, is at our core, we will reach out. And reaching out to let people know about Jesus, may or may not include more bums in pews. Either way, building the church is not the goal, but at best is a symptom of reaching people with Jesus.

Though I’m a later Gen-X’er and not a millennial, I have to agree with Millennial Pastor’s assessments.  If church is merely about a commitment to Church; what Millennial Pastor calls “social commitment” – then count me out.  It’s time for me to become a postal carrier.

However, if it’s about sharing about and living into the grace, mercy and compassion in Jesus; about being in joyful, passionate relationship with the Triune God (and, thus, God’s creation) – then count me in.  Heck, I’ll even die for that.

So yeah – things look bad.  But not all is lost.

Millennial Pastor asserts that things can change with “a lot of soul-searching, a lot of questions, a lot of discerning and a lot of prayer.” And then he ends with a call:

So how can churches address this? How can churches built on the social commitment to church have the conversation about the fact that the very thing that brings them together as a community is their biggest problem? Changing our foundations and cores will not be easy. In fact, many churches will choose to die instead of changing to the core of following Jesus.

Whoa.  The writing on the wall.  Change to the core, or die.

But wait. I’m hopeful.  And I actually think the top tier of leadership gets it.   At the same gathering that the report of decline and deficit were delivered, my own Bishop, The Rt. Rev. Logan McMenamie said this:

Renewal or transformation within the church will not be realized through structural change. If the structure fails to bring us into a closer relationship with Jesus, it will fail to be transformative for us as individuals and as a community. We are a people and community who are focused and centered around our relationship with Jesus Christ. We are being changed by coming into a real and living relationship with Jesus and we are transformed by the presence and power of the Spirit in our midst. We are looking at reforming, renewing, and reshaping the structure which allows us to bring this good news of God, through Jesus Christ, to the world and communities in which we live, work and play. We will not be satisfied with changing structures that leave lives untouched by Christ. (from here)

Did you hear that: “We will not be satisfied with changing structures that leave lives untouched by Christ”.   To that, I say ‘amen’.

And at the end of the day, what looks like bad news is made Good News in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  One Bishop was noted to say “to talk about the death of the Church is bad theology”.  Another person recently said to me “the good news about the current trainwreck of the church is that God is building it all anew”.

And I do see that everywhere I look – especially in the most unlikely of places.

What an opportunity! If you ask me, this is the most exciting time to be a Jesus-follower in centuries, even if it’s a painful time to have a “social commitment” to churchianity.

And l look, if I admit it, I am a bit of both a struggling Jesus-follower and a bit of a social commitment / churchianity guy.  Probably many of us churchy types are.  So it’s not ‘us’ versus ‘them’… It’s us prayerfully seeking to clarify the call of who we are and Whose we are.

With that, where am I really called to focus energy and commitment as I move into a new phase of ministry (I’m to be ordained in a few months!)?

Where is God calling us Jesus-followers in this adventure of being the Body of Christ on earth?

 

 

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Appendix:

“What do you understand your parish’s goals/priorities to be at this time?” [from here – page 10]

  • Active campaign on new building and ministry plan
  • Reduce debt of $132K over 5 years;
  • New building
  • We have a 100 year old building with a Phase 1,2,3 repairs
  • To modernize the liturgy – we’ve got to be more attractive to younger people
  • We need $200K for renovations — the design is not functional
  • We want a full-time priest… ; Get young people coming and families
  • Balancing the budget; people want value for money
  • We want to follow the plan that the Diocese has but adapt it to be relevant to our neighborhood and community
  • We have $40K debt which was a one-time repair for using the back of the church –
  • No plan and haven’t done stewardship for years.
  • We are holding our own; running a $40-50K deficit and have to rely on savings now
  • Keeping our head above water
  • There are a lot of good ideas and thought…we need to take risk and a chance.
  • Surviving; no ministry plan; we are scrambling to be sustainable
  • We struggle to balance operational budget ($180K from 100 active givers
  • We need to move out and meet God in the community; to do things differently
  • We did a stewardship program to increase giving by 10% and no it didn’t work; we exceeded our budget goal for the refugee sponsorship
  • We need to do more upgrades – make wheelchair accessible washrooms – elevator –
  • Must handle building issue (2 locations) and tie to Vision and Ministry Plan; we have 2 different cultures and approaches to leadership; we are more than half empty

 

 

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