We see the articles and blogs daily: church membership in decline, mainline influence waning, church buildings a burden, membership declining, fewer people entering the ministry.
Despite the challenges, there is a way forward for the church. The church will survive and prosper in the days ahead, but the form it takes will change.
Here are some strategies that may allow the church to remain vital and relevant:
- Congregations must learn to engage in a deeper spirituality that will foster meaningful discernment.
Spiritual vitality is at the core of a healthy congregation. There must be a significant shift from voicing what parishioners want to seeking where God is leading. This will require both personal and corporate prayer, Bible study and sacrifice.
- We must recognize there is more than one path to leadership in churches.
Churches will continue to call out and employ members with little or no theological training for leadership roles because they have the gifts to do the work.
Trained ministers will continue to follow their callings but may have to supplement their incomes through work beyond the church. Lay leaders will have to take on responsibilities once assumed by paid staff.
Both denominations and seminaries are recognizing these realities and developing new approaches to form, equip and encourage these individual ministries, but the shift will not be easy.
- Churches must adopt leaner, more agile organizational structures.
With fewer leaders, declining resources and time pressures, people in the church will be less inclined to waste their time on meaningless or maintenance-oriented tasks.
We need to focus on the essentials, eliminate redundancy, cut committees, add short-term teams and outsource functions that can reduce staff workload.
- Churches must look outward to develop dynamic, externally focused partnerships.
Christians must come to realize that God is at work not only within their churches but also with others as well.
If we are not already partnering with other Christians to do kingdom work, this is a good time to discover where we can work together to multiply our impact.
We must seek out “persons of peace” in other faith traditions who want to work together for community improvement and social justice.
We should also seek partnerships in the nonprofit community or consider ways we can join with those outside our churches to make a difference in the lives of people through new community organizations.
These strategies are not easy. Such steps require a reorientation of our priorities and a willingness to let go of some things, but as we do so, we will be free to embrace new possibilities.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is supplemental associate professor of missional theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.