upper room daily devotions

Sunday, September 30, 2007

church shelf-life

I've been wondering lately how long a congregation can sustain itself. I mean, when Paul went out there planting churches and growing Christian communities, was he expecting those communities to exist continuously and in tact for all time? Well, maybe Paul did... But I've been reading quite a bit about congregational health, church planting, church growth, and leadership and what I don't see written about is a congregation's shelf-life. Is it reasonable to expect churches to endure 100, 150, 200 years with health and vitality? When did we fall into the pattern of establishing a church expecting it to endure ad infinitum? Or is it possible - across all of our denominations - to adjust our thinking in such a way that we don't bemoan the loss of some local congregations? Could we instead celebrate the power of their witness and rejoice that they've nurtured many individuals over time and also allow these congregations to die with dignity and even... joy?

I'm sure there are congregations out there that are celebrating their 150th anniversary and maybe even their 200th anniversary, but is this a goal to which we should all aspire? Is perpetuity our goal or is faithfulness - even faithfulness of 20, 30, 40 years? Why do all congregations have to last forever? Perhaps they don't.

What does this musing have to do with progressive Christianity? Nothing specific perhaps, but it does have to do with faithfulness, which is fundamental to any real and authentic Christianity. I wonder if we spend too much energy in pursuits that lead us away from faithfulness, from vitality, from lavish grace and prophetic wisdom.

Now, I am not suggesting that we abandon struggling or hurting congregations. Not at all. Congregations - all congregations - deserve to be honored, celebrated, and recognized in a way that best suits them and their true goals. All congregations deserve care and faithful leadership. I am not even suggesting that this "wonder" about end points for congregational life is an "ought." I just wonder...


Mystical Seeker said...

I've attended a few urban churches that have been on the decline and that are barely surviving. As populations go in flux and conditions change, the old attenders go away or die, and the church has to attract new ones to continue to survive. Society is always changing, and churches can come and go as a result, but I do think it can be sad to see a longstanding institution fall by the wayside.

As for Paul, did he even expect that the world as he knew it would continue for much longer?

rev katie m ladd said...

LOL. No, Paul didn't expect his world to continue much longer, but I'm sure he thought the church would hang in there to the last.

I agree that it can, and often is, sad to see a longstanding institution fall away. But is sadness always a bad thing or just a natural response to change and loss?

I do wonder about the institutions of Modernity and how they will find a way in this emerging Postmodern world in which change occurs so quickly and so dramatically. Our institutional structures seem (at best) slow and inadequate and (at worst) totally incapable of dealing with life in this world.

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