You can always trust the Holy Spirit, but it sometimes really helps to know what the actual situation is.”
Recently, I tracked down “New Beginnings”, a program designed by the Disciples of Christ. “New Beginnings” is a church assessment program that uses trained clergy as consultants to work with struggling churches that want in-depth assessment of their vitality and viability. In two visits, they assess everything from the structural soundness of your building to your finances, neighborhood character and whether your church parlor is still decorated in avocado green and burnt orange (you know who you are). Then they work with your leadership to help you determine next steps for your ministry.
Last week I connected with Matthew Rosine, who has headed up “New Beginnings” for 7 years out of Indianapolis, serving a handful of judicatories (DOC, UCC and PCUSA) in a few states (mostly California and the Rustbelt, where church decline is more pronounced).
Matt told me that about 1/3 of the churches they work with have chosen relocation as an option to increase vitality in their ministry (I assume here he means selling their building and finding less expensive meeting space). Another 1/3 have chosen to re-define their mission, to “re-invent themselves” for a new purpose. About 15% have engaged in what he calls a “parallel start” (this means a church in decline shares its building and staff with a new church development). Only 5-10% of the churches he has worked with have decided to close. However, Rosine says, after a few years in the assessment business, he is seeing some churches now re-evaluating their earlier decisions, and some of those may choose closure eventually.
The cost of the assessment is borne by the congregation in most cases. DOC churches get a small subsidy, but it’s not exorbitant. Most churches pay $3,000- $4,000. The consultant travels to your site twice, but the congregation has to be motivated to make its own plan and move forward based on the assessment, so this is not a “quick fix”.
Having the objective, outside view of a church’s vitality and viability seems really smart. Insiders and stakeholders have trouble being objective about the value of their beloved buildings and cherished programs.
I believe it is possible, and sometimes more beneficial, for churches to do their own assessment of their situation, and I lay out some ways to do this in my book. But if you’re looking for an outsider’s view, I would recommend looking into this program. If you are DOC, UCC or PCUSA and your Conference/Presbytery isn’t working with “New Beginnings”, tell them about it!