If you don’t have time to read Anthony Robinson’s excellent book “Changing the Conversation”, this article is a good summary from the Alban Institute’s website. Robinson writes that church decline is partly about the culture, but also about our behavior as churches, and he invites congregations to engage in adaptive change in the face of circumstances we are not necessarily in control of. It is primarily a book for churches that want to rebuild their ministry in new ways, but he also acknowledges that
“There are some congregations where death is not the worst thing that can happen. It may even be the best thing that can happen, because without a death there can be no resurrection.”
Thank you, Rev. Robinson, because that is basically my thesis in a nutshell!
I heard Robinson speak last year and he talked about taking kayaking lessons. He explained that the first lesson in kayaking is how to get out of the kayak when it turns over. This is for safety. After you have mastered capsizing and escaping your kayak, the next lesson is how to get it turned back over and getting back in.
The lesson for me was: we churches need to learn to fail! Not to seek out failure, but to expose ourselves to that possibility and see what happens. And when we fail, we need to learn how to get back up and try again. We need to take risks and make mistakes and fail until we get used to recovering. That is called resilience. It is not a new lesson historically: there are ancient churches that have been engaged in public worship and mission for centuries, through the failures of war and natural disaster and migration. God’s Church is resilient by nature!
But remember: resilience is quite different than rigidity. To be rigid means you refuse to yield to changing circumstances. To be resilient means you hold on to the core of who you are and adapt your form as needed to survive in the torrent of change around you.
Thank you, Rev. Robinson, for your wisdom. And thanks to my reader Jenny for inspiring me to write today!!