The Shrinking Church:
Reversing the Course to Demise
Prologue and Introduction
This thread of articles is for clergy and faith leaders in mainline protestant churches who are struggling with diminishing attendance and general apathy in the culture at a time when Atheism has the largest “religion” in America. Do Christian churches offer a worthy alternative? The perspective I’m writing from is one of a Christian observer after having spent 40 years on a church staff planning and leading worship and fine arts ministries has been a serious student of leadership and the theology and tradition of protestant corporate worship. My comments are observations and questions about how current church leaders can reverse the exodus from church attendance and membership and grow healthy congregations interested in growing their own faith and serving all of God’s people moving from apathy to excitement, passivity to engagement, and from scarcity thinking to a mindset of abundance.
These articles are intended to prompt meaningful dialogue about important topics to our communities and essential to our country – building healthy churches that not only make disciples but lead members on a faith journey and serve others. Hateful rhetoric and critical comments will be deleted. The custom of talking about others, especially in derogatory terms rather than talking to each other directly addressing situations and subjects rather than pretending to be polite and then attacking others after the fact. We must learn to do better communicating, which begins with listening and then responding in a calm, direct, and kind manner. At the point in history that I’m writing this series of articles, our country is in turmoil with people taking sides with hateful comments and actions toward others who have a different perspective and basically shutting down any opportunity for meaningful dialogue about things that matter to all of us.
Also at this point in history, the church is in turmoil over issues about those who are different from what the church has found acceptable in the past. The mainline church is distracted unnecessarily from fulfilling God’s will with the politics of issues. It has divided the church and drawn energy from other very needed work.
It seems that an outside force is stirring things up so that we are in conflict internally giving power away without full awareness. I’m thankful that the local churches are going forward with their ministries, sometimes unaware or uninhibited by the denominational drama. It’s a chance to rethink who we are as the Church or the church.
Christ Has Died and Sadly, So Has the Church
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and left untried.” – G.K. Chesterton
Has the church died and we just don’t know it?
People don’t need an explanation when I share that I’m still a committed Christian despite the fact that I served on a church staff for 40 years. The sad reality is that the church, as a representation of Christianity, is not living up to that role.
It’s become a haven for people who have no power anywhere else to hold a power position, and a place for blaming, criticizing, and excluding. Sometimes the people who hold the power in the local church are the very cause of the dysfunction: we avoid conflict and it then takes control.
I have visited many churches since leaving full-time music ministry and find many churches that will not exist in a few years. There are many, many devoted and passionate pastors wanting to energize the church and engage members in a vital and relevant faith journey. They are all doing the best then can and use the best tools they know.
This thread is intended for those faith leaders wanting to lead revitalized ministries and who are willing to be open to looking inward in order to have an outward influence that makes a difference. This journey begins with self-awareness and isn’t about blame or criticism. Faith leaders are not intentionally damaging the church. Church leaders are working within a system that’s broken and are so close to the situation, that they can’t get a view of how to facilitate transformation. As St. Paul states, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Rom 12:2
My pattern is to ask questions hoping to prompt creative thinking and problem-solving. Readers can be offended and criticize the questions, however, we remain where we are if we are not growing.
James Allen said, “Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves; they, therefore, remain bound.”
Transformation begins with the leader. My background is in teaching leaders new pathways to transformational effectiveness through embracing Transformational Leadership as a culture of higher functioning. The culture is a reflection of the leader.
Here are some questions, headlines, and quotes to prompt us to think creatively and to get out of the box we are in that limits our awareness…
- Should we just bury the existing church this Good Friday with Jesus?
- Where does this leave us as Christian leaders and what other options can we create?
- How do I as a Christian leader equip myself to be the influencer for transformation?
- What the local church in which I am the leader look like in 5 years?
Reinhold Niebuhr – …Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted…
Richard Rohr The best way to facilitate change is from inside an organization, but not at the center of the organization. Changing from the edge of an organization is best.
…transformation is often more about unlearning than learning… – Richard Rohr
Too much of both religion and common therapy seem to be committed to making people comfortable with what many of us call our “false self.” It’s just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, which is going to sink anyway. The false self is all the more delusional the more it appears to be “good.” – Richard Rohr
U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time
On the Gallup website
Christianity faces sharp decline as Americans are becoming even less affiliated with religion
On The Washington Post website
If it doesn’t stem its decline, mainline Protestantism has just 23 Easters left
On the Washington Post website
This article is now 5 years old and the situation hasn’t changed. If anything, it’s gotten worse.
Upcoming titles that might be of interest to you:
- No More BS…The Church Needs Resurrecting
- The Way We Perceive Church Leadership is Way Wrong
- Are You Feeling Worthy to Lead?
- Children’s Sermons: A Form of Child Abuse
- Church Leaders Untie!
- Dumbing Down: How Church Leadership Has Set Up the Exodus
- Got Conflict? By the way, did you cause it?
- Hire a Church Consultant – Sucker!
- Pastors Are Entrepreneurs…So, Get Over It!
- So, You’re Leading a Church with No Plan: Think Again
- The “Earl Grey Pastor” – Doing Nothing Isn’t the Answer
- Using the Great Commission as a Church Mission Statement is Irresponsible
- Eliminate Volunteers: It’s Not Consistent with Our Theology
- Why Leadership Equality is Dumb
- How a Lack of Worship Best Practices is Killing Meaningful Worship
It’s time for a clergy and faith leader recharge!
Please comment below.
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(c) 2019, Hugh Ballou. All rights reserved.
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