A colleague recently posted a great question to our community of mid council leaders:
Who/What is helping your congregations get unstuck from the closure vs. merger trap, and move into better questions about faithful congregational ministry?
No one likes to be stuck. Without hope. Without options. If true, likely you're without a mission.
How does your church or your leadership team get un-stuck? As congregations try live into God's preferred future, they can sometimes get stuck with a two-option future: close or merge. The two-option future is a trap based on an experience of God as not a God of scarcity, not of creative abundance. Let's think more deply and explore how to get unstuck.
Congregations are not victims to their future or their past. Neither need they be victims stumbling into their future! There is a present-tense of hope which is a choice available to all of us in God's emerging future. When a congregation is traumatized (for example) by their lack of energy and ministry satisfaction, there are many options ahead.
Symptoms resulting from a lack of mission focus include decline, unhealthy systems, ineffective ministries, inwardly focused leaders, and depleted resources. They can still choose a better path forward when they realize that congregations, worshipping-witnessing communities, are not isolated systems, even if they think they are. Sadly, at times they prefer to be. Congregations have a context: the community. A place on the planet they are geolocated. Once re-engaged, new possibilities can emerge.
I invest a lot of energy in conversations with sessions to frame alternate questions. For example, instead of the familiar presenting question: "What is our church to do?", I invite them to explore two more useful questions, "What life-giving energy has our church experienced?" and "What is our church context?" When they are given permission to rediscover their original charter, their purpose, and then celebrate what has brought them to "here and now" they can imagine "doing again" the good they did. In conversations, we understand that people just like them have invested spiritual and monetary equity in them. They are not alone.
When a session/congregation seems to have "ended up" at that awful stuck place of "close or merge," there still remains a unique opportunity to redeploy their assets to bless others. I recommend a process such as the excellent New Beginnings assessment. Almost any church can stop behaving like a victim and instead choose a different future. Of course, dissolving and merging are two of the many options to explore, but through the New Beginnings process, they realize every choice is a "best" one for them right now.
You can't have healthy congregational transformation without effective community engagement.
I have found that almost every session with whom I have worked welcomes a process of hopefulness as they rediscover they have something to give to others. Even if that "gift" is expressed in a merger, or dissolution, or any one of a dozen other outcomes, the key is that they are empowered self-identify that special "something," then collaborating with the regional council and others in the community, they can effectively redirect their resources outward.
Outward focus is an antidote for being stuck.
A revolutionary practice of reciprocity has stimulated congregation and community transformation. (See the model I developed under the Reciprocity In Action tab.)
Stop where you are and consider you place, the inner and outer place you inhabit, individually and organizationaly. To get unstuck, you have to get clear about your mission, and a God of abundance offer many options on the road ahead.