Most of us who do church work are familiar with the notion of the congregational lifecycle. It’s a bell-shaped curve: starting at the left with birth, congregations move through formation to reach peak stability. Then they start to move back down toward decline and ultimately death—unless we do something to change the curve.
It is too soon to create a definitive list of all the things we will have learned from this pandemic, but I’m clear about one thing—John Kotter was right that urgency does drive change. Under pressure from the Covid-19 pandemic and outrage over police violence against black people, congregations have made changes I thought I would never see. Will we be able to continue innovating when extreme urgency no longer forces us to do so?
“Shrink-Smart” communities have something to teach congregations about how to thrive where population is declining.
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!
If all that’s left is a building and some folks who gather once a week to sit and chat, is it still a church?
We live in anxious times, and one of the things that makes small congregations especially anxious is the fear that they might need to close. As members watch their Sunday morning worship attendance dwindle, someone usually starts “running the numbers,” trying to determine how long they can continue before the money runs out and they’re forced to close.
Trust in our institutions—and in our institutional leaders—is crumbling, but there is a bright side: Institutions, it turns out, are deeply fallible human constructions. We were mistaken to ever put our trust in them. As the walls come tumbling down around our institutional infrastructures, the local congregation may emerge as the ideal locale to build genuine community.