Disclaimer: I have to start this blog post off by saying that the following criticism is not directed at any one person. It is NOT a personal attack on anybody. This is a critique of a larger system that people might be a part of, but again my beef is with the system and not any person.
I think congregations in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) are in trouble and parts of the General and Regional Church bodies are not prepared to deal with it.
They aren’t ready because they are not geared towards helping congregations as they are focused on their own agendas and a less corporate spirituality.
They also aren’t ready because in the past, the churches were doing well. In the heyday of the Disciples, the churches were full and sent their monies to the various ministries. Not every church was great, but churches were not dealing with the massive change they are now so whatever issues there were might have been easily solvable.
None of this was intentional. I don’t think there are folks in Indianapolis sitting around finding ways to destabilize local churches. That said, I think churches are struggling to be relevant and sustainable in this new century and time of being church and the various agencies of the denomination are not responsive enough to the changing mission field.
They also aren’t ready because the current structure of the denomination, now nearly 50 years old, isn’t designed to help congregations of the 21st century. I’ve said it a few times before, and it bears repeating now. According a video shown at the 2013 General Assembly, only 18 percent of Disciple congregations are considered sustainable according to 20th century standards, meaning the ability to pay a full time pastor among other factors. I said in a post a year ago, that my current congregation is not considered susatainable according to these standards. Which means we have to find a new standard. What makes a congregation sustainable and vital? That’s a question that people at the General church and the Regional church have to answer. I think there are a lot of churches like First Christian-St. Paul that are not considered sustainable according to the mid-20th century standards, but they are still places filled with vitality. How is the wider church reaching out to them and helping them with resources?
How are we handling churches that decide to close? Are we working with the leadership to look at using the sale of buildings to further ministry? Are we helping them “die with dignity?” Do we offer pastoral care for the members?
How do we help congregations understand their ministry context? How is Regional staff working to help these churches do ministry in this post-establishment era of mainline churches? Is there a way for churches to share their best practices? In the past, tools that help churches understand the demographics of their neighborhood were available in the Region. A few years ago, it seemed that Hope Partnership could do this but for a fee. Can this be made free again so that churches can access this resource?
Here’s a basic one: do we even know why we need congregations? My take is at times we don’t know. It could be why new church ministry languishes in some regions. Speaking of new church, are Regions working on ways to have staff support for this endeavor? Do we understand how these churches can introduce people to a loving God? Do we understand that churches are small examples of the kingdom God is bringing forth?
That’s just some of the questions I have right now about Disciple congregations. I’m curious to know if others have the same questions or even if they have questions. I’d like to hear from fellow Disciples on this.