I needed something like Will Strunk’s Elements of Style for spirituality—pithy rules like “use the active voice” or “omit needless words,” to reorient my life the way Strunk’s book has sharpened up my writing. Here’s what I came up with.
“Shrink-Smart” communities have something to teach congregations about how to thrive where population is declining.
On a warm day during Lent, you’re driving by a church in a suburban neighborhood. You see a Christmas wreath hanging on the church door. Quick, what’s your first thought? Is it, “That’s the place for me!” or “What’s wrong with those people?” Church buildings convey volumes of information, much of it by accident.
As a strategic planner, I encourage congregations to look for places where their gifts and skills can meet the particular needs of their neighbors. As a human service provider, I watch my clients trudge all over town, piecing together services they need. I worry that despite our good intentions, sometimes congregations make life harder for our neighbors than we should.
Six of the eight Presbyterian congregations in my community are small enough to be within sight of closing. But I’m done being sad for them or anxious about them, and I think they should be done, too. I think it’s time for all of us to play!
Many congregations are seeing a decline in contributions and attendance. Most of them try to address the decline, usually by tweaking staff size and deferring maintenance. But I rarely encounter a church that is willing to consider one of the biggest and potentially most energizing changes: letting go of the building.
Innovation is a standard expectation for leaders who want congregations to attract and retain new members or reach out to the community in new ways. But many congregations, having never had to go beyond small programmatic tweaks, don’t know where to start. Based on recent experience with a major innovation at the faith-based nonprofit that I lead, I’d like to offer some suggestions.