I’ve been working on a chapter of the “From Death to Life” project about tasks of a grieving church. There are things churches can do to help people grieve in healthy ways when they experience loss. If your church is in a time of decline, even if you are not closing, you may want to give attention to those things people feel sad about losing.
Here are some tasks congregations could engage in:
Name your losses: Just telling others out loud what you miss and how you feel is a way of moving through grief. Lament, which I wrote about in this post, is the act of naming our losses and asking God to be present in saving power.
Offer forgiveness: often in declining churches, people want to blame each other. Members blame the pastor, the pastor blames the troublesome members, and everyone blames “those people who never come anymore”. In order to get through our grief and move on to hope, private and public acts of forgiveness may be helpful. These may include formal rituals of reconciliation or personal actions or conversations that express forgiveness and grace.
Consider the spiritual needs of others: humans have this tendency to focus on our own needs–even Christians. Take time in reflection and conversation to consider the spiritual needs of others in the community. Then, after you have listened to them, share what your spiritual needs are. This may help a group make peace with a decision to close if it is helping members find new ways to grow spiritually.
Dream about the coming Reign of God: Instead of focusing only on what the church has lost, try imagining the new Church God is building among you. Do you believe God has something better in mind? What will it be like? Part of this may be imagining how you yourself will use your spiritual gifs in a new ministry setting.
Those are just a few examples of behaviors that can help a church get through various kinds of grief. I have more in the chapter. Maybe I’ll write about them another day.