The following article by Cameron Trimblewas originally posted at http://www.ucc.org/stillspeaking_weekly_a_spirited_note_to_church_leaders
January 14, 2015
Written by Cameron Trimble
I am bored with the narrative of church decline. Sure, fewer people are going to church. Some churches are closing. I understand the impulse to throw your hands up in despair, change occupations, or hold out until retirement then wish the next generation good luck. Yet I’m optimistic. I am seeing a new path of enormous opportunity -- one that calls us to greater imagination, risk-taking and reinvention. God is leading us down this new path, and I see churches finding success on it.
Church renewal is not about restructuring all we know and love about the Church in favor of some trendy new format or program. We question form but remain true to function. We keep our core commitment to transform lives for the sake of the Gospel while allowing for entrepreneurial new formats, structures and experiences.
I’d like to suggest we begin with these five steps:
1. Stop settling for mediocre worship. Transforming lives is not a nice byproduct, but the primary mission, of the Church. When was the last time you left as a new and renewed spiritual being when you attended church? You may leave socially fed and physically fed, but leaving church spiritually fed is becoming a rarity. I know, such brash statements are sure to arouse significant defensiveness. However, I still would ask, if we offered the world a transformational encounter with God every single Sunday, do you think we would have trouble filling our pews? Our job as church leaders is to create at least 52 transformational experiences every year. That’s 52 opportunities a year to change someone’s life as they encounter the sacred.
2. Turn members into ministers, not managers. Who joins a church because they want to serve on another committee? No one. Yet how many of our local congregations offer that as the only way to participate in the life of the congregation? Here is the truth folks: the vast majority of churches in the United States have 150 members or less. It does not take 26 committees to manage that. Instead of committee members, turn them into leaders. Instead of managers, give them mission. Empower people to engage in life-changing work rather than institutional management. Let them BE the Church and change the world … and then hire a manager.
3. Create environments of innovation. In his book Church 3.0, Neil Cole writes, “Whether seeing tall ceilings with stained-glass windows or meeting in a box building without windows, the actual system of church has gone relatively unchanged. You have priests and pastors, Sunday morning services with singing and a sermon, the weekly offering, the pulpit and pews, and the church building.” Why young people aren’t attending, why our technology is outdated, why national structures are broken and regional offices are bankrupt -- these are not mysterious challenges with no discernible solutions. These are organizational systems in need of innovation. I’ve been so impressed by the new partnership of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and Episcopal Church working together to start new ministries. One of their exciting new projects is the Baltimore-based Church on the Square led by the Rev. James Hamilton. Through addressing wellness issues, nurturing arts and culture, improving the environment, the Church on the Square is enriching community life through faith, spirituality and doubt. It’s a laboratory of innovation with Jesus at its core.
4. Seminaries are great, but we need more learning partners. I appreciate seminaries for their important role in the formation of church leaders, but to assume seminary education is all one needs to engage in effective ministry is ludicrous. Seminaries are not equipped (yet) to train us in web development, financial management, building maintenance, landlord procedures, marketing and branding, media relations, database management and, in some cases, nonprofit management. Other degree programs do not pretend to teach students all they need to know. Instead, they have robust continuing education programs that efficiently teach the more practical, hands-on skills. Evolving industries require continuing education opportunities to keep professionals up-to-date on emerging thoughts, tools and trends. Why don’t we require the same?
5. Start embracing technology. The reality is that most people working in secular settings already live in a world of web meetings, video conferencing, Facebook and blogging. They have embraced e-marketing and YouTube, Twitter and iPads. For us to not embrace these tools and use them for their proven effectiveness makes us not only look obsolete and irrelevant, but we’re acting that way, too. Think of the time you would save by using reliable contact management software rather than maintaining your church membership lists on an Excel spreadsheet or a membership book. Think of the funds you could raise online rather than only by cash or check on Sunday morning? Think of the impact you could make by incorporating a powerful video clip to illustrate a sermon point, connecting the modern to the ancient. Think of the money (and trees) you would save by emailing your e-newsletter rather than printing and mailing a hard copy to every member. The intelligent use of technology could save thousands of hours and dollars for just one church.
I love the Church, and I do not believe that we are presiding over its death. I do have faith that the United Church of Christ can have a vital and important future. But as leaders, we must have the hope followed by the courage to forge new ways forward. I believe in resurrection.
Sparking Ministry Conversation
Why are you hopeful about the future of your church? What difference is your church making in your community? Who would your church be and what would you be doing if you were brave?