Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Another One Bites the Dust??

I got a call yesterday morning from one of my microchurch colleagues. (I coined the term microchurch to distinguish the type of church we serve from the "small" church which, according to the literature can be as large as 150 members--four times the size of my church.)

Anyway--the last time we talked, she'd shared that she was probably going from full to half time at the start of the year due to financial realities in her congregation. However, last week she sat down with her treasurer and chair of the finance comittee to crunch numbers and discovered that even supporting a half time pastor is not a sustainable possibility for them. What she wanted from me was advice and counsel on how to lead a congregation through a discussion of the possibility of closing.

Believe me, this is the last thing on earth on which I wish to be considered an expert. But I was glad to talk to her because when I had that same question a year ago, I couldn't find a lot of helpful stuff out there in church publications land. There's a lot of church revitalization literature, church growth advice, creative thinking about the future of THE CHURCH--but not a lot of "how to" advice for when a congregation is truly running out of options and really needs to have a healthy conversation about the possibility of closure. And there is even less info on what you do when you've decided to close. How do you do this in a healthy, faithful, healing way? I'm guessing that a lot of members of churches that close do not find their way to new congregations because of lingering pain, anger, shame, etc. from the church closure experience.

Some of you have suggested I try writing about this (besides here in the ole blog). And I'm thinking about it. But I think what would be more widely helpful is input from many pastors and congregations that have experienced this--as well as actual hard research from some Alban Institute type place--how many churches are closing? Why? What are the stats on what happens to members of dissolved churches? ARe there case studies of congregations who have hanedled this process creatively and well and case studies of churches who have not? What role does the governing body play in shepherding a "good" or "bad" closure? Are there examples of where dissolving a particular congregation led to some hopeful "new thing"? That would be very helpful to hear.

If you have experiences to share--or know of folks who do, let me know.


cheesehead said...

Ive seen it done really well, and really badly. An urban church in the city I live near recently "merged". But they had money, just not people. The members chose other area churches to transfer membership to. The money went, proportionally, to those other churches (all within our denomination). They did it really well, with presbytery's full support (real support) and with a pastor who had some experience with this sort of thing.

It is hardest when there are a few people, but no money. It may be that your friend will not be the one to teach them how to have a graceful death. The first one to help them "discover" (face) their true condition sometimes isn't. But your friend might be able to pastor them through diagnosis, if not hospice.

Prayers for all of us small/micro church pastors.

Apostle John said...

I've seen some good closings where the church celebrated the fact that it had done well and that their members had gone into all the world to continue the church's work.

I'd suggest contacting Presbytery Execs and talking with them about good and bad processes -- they've been through both and often been the reason why the process was either good or bad.

Part-time ministry is often just an excuse for churches not to pay the Presbytery minimum -- Part-ministry is part-time pay for full-time work.

Can Presbytery help fund this church? I was in a church that received a supplement from Presbytery. We averaged about 30 to 40 people in worship and we needed the help.

Can there be a yoking situation? I have been there as well.