When I started this project in March, my goal was to learn about churches that have closed and what happened to the people and the ministry they had done. One thing I’ve learned is that, while some churches decide to close their doors and disperse, others find a wide variety of options for moving ahead as Christians in mission, together or apart.
“Closure” is sort of a dirty word; people don’t want to even talk about it. Alice Mann (Alban Institute) said in a recent Webinar that closure should always be one of the options on the table for churches in transition, even if just to heighten the sense of importance the ministry has to a congregation. It forces you to consider why you need to fight to stay open. But she also says, and I agree, that there are some churches that reach a point where they need to close gracefully.
Many churches find other options between the poles of dying or growing. I’m actually having fun learning about all the variations on this! Mergers are one; clustering churches, yoking, federated churches, shared buildings, meeting in a nursing home…the list of options goes on. The creativity of the Holy Spirit is endless!
So now, I’m revising my project to include “downsizing”. This term suggests a move toward greater efficiency in ministry operations (e.g. cutting staff or buildings), but it also has a corporate ring to it that isn’t quite right for us in the church. What these other options offer us is flexibility as we imagine the future of the Church. Even as we “cut” institutional stuff, we may become more nimble and focused in the particular missions we engage in.
I’m not good at coming up with titles and coining phrases. Maybe a reader can help me with a better catch phrase for my research. For now, I lean on the apostle Paul who wrote,
“Give yourselves to God, as those who have been raised from death to life.” (Romans 6:13)
And on Jesus, who said,
“A grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies. If it does die, then it produces many grains. ”