In the United States, participation in Protestant churches has declined dramatically in the last fifty years. While some congregations are adapting to change, others find themselves facing likely downsizing and/or closure.
How can churches negotiate healthy closures that invite the re-purposing of their spiritual, material and social resources for new ministry ventures? My project, “From Death to Life: Churches Facing Resurrection”, will address this question by examining congregations that have discerned a call to end their ministry in its current form. Through interviews with lay and clergy leaders, and drawing from my professional life, I am collecting stories about the emotions and spiritual struggles experienced, the leadership tasks employed, and the way all parties in a system can foster faithful fulfillment of ministries that are no long vital or sustainable.
My project is uncovering differences between healthy downsizing, mergers and closures, where spiritual and material resources are made available for new forms of ministy, from painful closures that result in compounded losses for individuals and their communities. The research will result in an accessible resource that serves as a catalyst for healthy conversations about significant institutional change among lay and clergy leaders.
I am pleased to announce that my research will be funded in 2011 and 2012 by a generous Pastoral Study Project Grant awarded to me by The Louisville Institute. You can read more about their work at www.louisville-institute.org