Congregations often experience conflict in response to social movements in the world around them. Since World War II, movements regarding civil rights, the war in Vietnam, the ordination of women, and human sexuality—each vitally important in its own right—also have raised challenges inside congregations, forcing leaders to address internal questions of power and culture.
While forty years of major mergers in American Protestantism ended in the 1980s, in recent decades nearly all major US denominations have declined. From the Episcopal Church to the Southern Baptist Convention, membership numbers and denominational loyalty have diminished across the theological spectrum. But as national denominational connections have frayed, congregations’ local and regional ties are surging. Affiliation patterns are changing.
I used to run laps—now I am more apt to walk. Either way, I find that if I can muster the will power to begin, I can almost always finish the first lap. But if the loop is too short for a full run, I’m faced with a decision: should I quit or start my second lap? Lap number two is where adrenaline leaves off and perseverance gets its test. As we move out of 2020 into 2021, clergy and lay leaders face the challenge of rekindling energy for a year of new and different challenges.
Many phrases commonly used to describe the coronavirus pandemic have revolutionary overtones. Covid-19 is the “great disruptor,” the “medical disaster,” and the “economic catastrophe.” Writers assert that Covid-19 “will change the workplace forever,” arguing that its effects are both “global” and “enduring.” Reporting on the wave of unrest sparked by police killings of unarmed African Americans carries similar tones. Reporters describe the scope of the unrest as “unprecedented,” while the level of polarization in the country is “historic.”
Most congregations engage in some form of social ministry—but why do they do it?