Four directions in the downsizing of the church

PeaceBang, the nom de blog of friend and minister Victoria Weinstein, opines at length about the foundational changes shaking our United States church experience.

Because everything is changing so fast, even those of us in the profession can’t keep up with the framework, the lingo or the expectations.  The fancy name for all of this is adaptive leadership, which is a nice way of saying that we’re all running like Indiana Jones a few yards ahead of the boulder of cultural change that threatens to flatten us at any moment.

She was speaking from her own observation, but a report that came out this week from Pew Research Center — quantifying the numerical shrinkage of American Christians and a comparably increase of the unaffiliated — alerted people that might otherwise not care so much.

She suggests that I might know how the remaining worshippers of the future will act, and so I’m adjusting some of my previously planned writing to address the question that’s the title of her blog post: “What Happens to Worshipers When The Traditional Church Closes Its Doors”?

The adjustment will come in phases, so let me address what won’t work; that is, doing church more cheaply. This won’t save us. So keep the champagne flowing? No. A cheaper, simpler approach won’t save us, but neither will we have an option. In time, even a deep endowment can dry up.

So the four directions in downsizing the church are taking creative alternatives to

  • staffing the church work with trained and ordained ministers, in new configurations
  • staffing the church work with new groupings of people with differing professional interests and accomplishments
  • making use of space other than conventional church buildings
  • making different use of the church buildings that exist

So what’s the solution? It’s making the experience of the church more desirable than the cost. The financial cost, true, but also of time, patience, labor, expertise and reputation. This last may be the hardest. Like climate change that melts the permafrost, releasing methane accelerating the warming — mull on that simile for a moment — if someone feels like a sucker for participating in a church, no cost savings, no special programming, no reasoned (or emotional) appeal will make it seem like a good idea.

And overcoming that dilemma is more than the subject of a blog post.

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Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

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