Advertisements
Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘dying churches’

volcanoSherrylee and I were watching a Netflix movie last night about a rogue oil company that drilled too deep and hit a pocket of magnum. By bursting into this pocket of magnum, they created not only a catastrophic volcanic eruption in Oregon, but also a chain reaction with all the other volcanoes on the Pacific Rim.

The geologist who explained what was happening to everyone in the movie called it an ELE, an Extinction Level Event, meaning that if all of these volcanoes went up at the same time, the dust and ash would block out the sun for so long that life on Planet Earth as we know it would die out. Of course, he saved the world from the ELD and got the girl, so you can rest easy tonight!

Or can you?

I started thinking about churches/congregations and what an ELE for them would be.  For churches, this was my short list

  • The last young family with children leaves your church because you have no viable children’s program.
  • Your church only has two men willing to be elders and lead the church, and one of them quits and the other has an affair.
  • Your church overbuilds in a burst of faith-based optimism and then does not have the resources to repay the debt.
  • A church hires a divisive preacher and doesn’t get rid of him fast enough.
  • Your church makes the decision that it is too small or weak to be concerned externally, so God just wants you to take care of the flock already in the building.
  • The church’s vision is the same as the budget report!

Nothing can destroy the church of God! No power in this world or the invisible world!  But the lampstands of some individual expressions of God’s church will be removed (Revelation 2:5), if they don’t repent.

Interestingly, almost no one in the Oregon town of the movie believed that the ELE was possible.  And most of our churches don’t think it could happen to them either.  It might be worth one church meeting to just brainstorm the question: what could happen that would destroy this congregation.  Some natural events are both unpredictable and unavoidable.  Churches die naturally like people do.  But too many may die early deaths which could have been prevented.

In last night’s movie,  it took a single person being willing to risk his life in order to place a bomb in the right place to seal up the volcano, and only then was the world saved from extinction.

What might be the metaphorical bomb that needs to be put in the exact right place to save your congregation?

Who might be the person in your church who has to take the big risk?  You?

 

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Years ago, I was a church leader in an ill church, and I really didn’t even know it! Certainly I had my concerns about different issues and challenges that we were facing, and I threw my influence as far as it would go to help enliven the church, but never did I think that the church might be in a death spiral!

Now, many years later, I ask myself why I did not recognize the very obvious signs of terminal decline. As I have searched my own soul, the following seem to me to be some of the reasons why church leaders do not even sniff the rottenness that is corrupting the Body!

1.     Too inexperienced. Few of our church leaders are trained church leaders. They are usually excellent volunteers, but how many would let an excellent hospital volunteer examine and diagnose you?  What if they couldn’t tell a mole from melanoma?

2. Too busy leading the church! The more rapid the decline, the more work there is for those trying to keep it alive! Hard to see imminent danger because of all the people needing your immediate attention.

3.     Too optimistic! Optimism–trust in God’s victory—is a highly desirable quality, but look at how difficult it was for Jesus to convince His closest disciples that He was going to die! Facing reality is also highly desirable.

4.     Too invested! Your family is in this church; your life-long friends are in this church; you grew up in this church! Unfortunately, none of these investments will save a declining church!

5.     Too satisfied. You have a great group! The building is paid for. Sure, you are a little smaller, but it is still alive for you!

6.     Too comfortable. It takes a lot of time and energy to change things. It is MUCH easier to just keep on doing what we have always done—and maybe it will work out!

7.     Too fearful. You can’t even go to the idea that this church might go away—too much pain involved!  Too many unanswerable questions about the unknown future.

8.     Too proud. After all, you are one of the leaders and things don’t fail that you are a part of! Not on your watch!

9.     Too tradition-bound. We’ve always done things this way and we’ve had rough days in the past, so if we just keep on course and not mess with the formula, we’ll be OK!

10.   Too much ownership! Granddaddy was an elder, Dad was an elder, and now I’m an elder. This is my church and my family’s church, and we will never let it fail!

11.    Too influenced by others. We’ve talked it over at the elders’ meeting, and the consensus is that  we are OK.  The members aren’t complaining.

12.    Too short-sighted. Even if it were true, what can anyone do about it. Might as well just ride to the end of the road.

13.    Too power-oriented. I’m one of the leaders. I can’t imagine not being a leader, so I think I’ll just keep on being a leader!

Rarely is leadership blindness the result of just one of the above Such lists are always an oversimplification of complex bundles of ideas and emotions, but no item on the list above allows church leaders to see clearly the plan of God for the people entrusted into their care.

I’ll end by just challenging church leaders to search their hearts and look for symptoms of reality blindness.  It’s not a fatal disease. Leaders can discover their vision and wisdom in time to take responsible action.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt.”   James 1:5-6

Read Full Post »

Like 3500-4500 churches each year in America, this church was thinking about closing its doors.  Just over eight years ago, there had been enough energy and hope among somewhere near 200 church members to add a new 300-seat auditorium and several classrooms to their small, aging facility.

But by the end of 2011, in spite of several soul-searching attempts at revival and renewal, church membership was about 50 members with little hope left of turning things around.

This church had a very limited number of choices; without knowing what actually took place, I’m confident that some members probably wanted to hold on and keep trying to grow. “If we just work harder, . . . .”  Other members may have been for searching out a partner and merging with a larger established congregation. Other small churches in this area have done that in the last few years.(See “Southlake and The Hills ).  I hope none were tempted to maintain their identity until the last person walked out the door and locked up the building, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Ultimately, the church and its leaders decided that even this process could be damaging to those members still left, so the best thing to do for this congregation was to encourage all current members to seek other church families and to become involved with them.  Sunday, May 27 was the last communion service in this building which had been home to this church family for three decades.

But what about the building? What happens to all the things, including the building, when a church disbands?

By law, non-profit organizations—which includes churches—upon dissolution cannot just sell everything and distribute the proceeds to the members. It doesn’t take long to figure out why! Virtually all of the money used to purchase all of the assets would have been charitable donations for which all of the donors received tax benefits.  The church property had been tax exempt. And much of the money given charitably to the organization would have been given by people who were no longer associated with the church.  The principle is the no one is allowed to “profit” from the sale of a non-profit!

So what happens with all the assets when a church disbands?  A church building, for instance, can be sold, but all the proceeds must be distributed to other non-profit organizations.  I have known church buildings which were sold and all of the proceeds went to build Christian camps; others gave their funds to other congregations to support mission work; still others have given their funds away to facilitate new church plants.

This church decided to sell the building and distribute all of the funds to a variety of ministries with which the church had been involved.

Let’s Start Talking was a ministry in search of a home; we were going to be evicted on September 30 of this year to make room for a new airport freeway.  On July 16, the day after the “For Sale” sign appeared in front of the church building, we contacted the church leaders, who by that time were the only “members” of the congregation left and the ones who were personally maintaining and funding the building.

Because they knew and had actually participated as a church with Let’s Start Talking, they were eager to talk.  From the very beginning, they made it clear that they were willing to sell us the building well below its appraised value in order to make it possible for LST to purchase the building.

After just a few conversations, the church leaders made LST a firm offer that could be accepted, a purchase price that was just over 50% of what the church was asking others to pay.

This morning, October 12, we sat around the table with the banker and the lawyer, and the deed to the facility passed from these faithful church leaders to the Let’s Start Talking Ministry.  The papers were signed quickly, but afterwards we all just stood around and talked about how God had once again provided in a way that exceeded our imaginations.

Sherrylee asked some of the church leaders if there were any pangs of remorse.  Of course there is some sense of loss, but these men all reassured us of the joy it brought them to know that what had been of such great benefit to them was now going to continue to be used for the work of the kingdom and through a ministry in which they believed God was working.

LST is the beneficiary of this great blessing, and we know that all good gifts come from the Father, but we want to commend these church leaders for faithful stewardship of all with which they had been entrusted—to the very end!

They are a great example to the leaders of all of those 3500-4500 churches that are closing each year. The end of your story is not the end of God’s story for you!

Read Full Post »

!Years ago, I was a church leader in an ill church, and I really didn’t even know it! Certainly I had my concerns about different issues and challenges that we were facing, and I threw my influence as far as it would go to help enliven the church, but never did I think that the church might be in a death spiral!

Now, many years later, I ask myself why I did not recognize the very obvious signs of terminal decline. As I have searched my own soul, the following seem to me to be some of the reasons why church leaders do not even sniff the rottenness that is corrupting the Body!

1.     Too inexperienced. Few of our church leaders are trained church leaders. They are usually excellent volunteers, but how many would let an excellent hospital volunteer examine and diagnose you?  What if they couldn’t tell a mole from melanoma?

2. Too busy leading the church! The more rapid the decline, the more work there is for those trying to keep it alive! Hard to see imminent danger because of all the people needing your immediate attention.

3.     Too optimistic! Optimism–trust in God’s victory—is a highly desirable quality, but look at how difficult it was for Jesus to convince His closest disciples that He was going to die! Facing reality is also highly desirable.

4.     Too invested! Your family is in this church; your life-long friends are in this church; you grew up in this church! Unfortunately, none of these investments will save a declining church!

5.     Too satisfied. You have a great group! The building is paid for. Sure, you are a little smaller, but it is still alive for you!

6.     Too comfortable. It takes a lot of time and energy to change things. It is MUCH easier to just keep on doing what we have always done—and maybe it will work out!

7.     Too fearful. You can’t even go to the idea that this church might go away—too much pain involved!  Too many unanswerable questions about the unknown future.

8.     Too proud. After all, you are one of the leaders and things don’t fail that you are a part of! Not on your watch!

9.     Too tradition-bound. We’ve always done things this way and we’ve had rough days in the past, so if we just keep on course and not mess with the formula, we’ll be OK!

10.   Too much ownership! Granddaddy was an elder, Dad was an elder, and now I’m an elder. This is my church and my family’s church, and we will never let it fail!

11.    Too influenced by others. We’ve talked it over at the elders’ meeting, and the consensus is that  we are OK.  The members aren’t complaining.

12.    Too short-sighted. Even if it were true, what can anyone do about it. Might as well just ride to the end of the road.

13.    Too power-oriented. I’m one of the leaders. I can’t imagine not being a leader, so I think I’ll just keep on being a leader!

Rarely is leadership blindness the result of just one of the above Such lists are always an oversimplification of complex bundles of ideas and emotions, but no item on the list above allows church leaders to see clearly the plan of God for the people entrusted into their care.

I’ll end by just challenging church leaders to search their hearts and look for symptoms of reality blindness.  It’s not a fatal disease. Leaders can discover their vision and wisdom in time to take responsible action.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt.”   James 1:5-6

 

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: