There is hope, yes there is. If we are faithful and courageous, we can live the love and justice of Jesus. Christ needs a new church. We can build it.
I see anxiety about declining membership and financial support growing at many of our congregations. For a long time, many churches were able to cope with declining membership because the remaining members increased giving, but now this inclination to generosity is weakening or is being overwhelmed by the loss of members. For many of us, it is becoming clear that the way we “do church” – which is facility-based, professionally-led, and Sunday-morning-worship-centered is no longer viable. This is real: If one of the functions of a church is to help people grow in their relationships with God, we are not functioning very well in many church settings. This may not be new. It may be that greater membership and financial support in the past was not a reflection of functioning well – helping people grow in their relationships with God - as much as evidence of the social role churches played in our culture.
When I started on the Conference staff in 2002, I imagined that our way of doing church was sustainable. In fact, I could imagine that the adoption of best practices, leadership development, and other initiatives could lead to renewed growth. This has not come to pass. This has been discouraging at times.
I’m ready to move on. If our way of doing church is not effective, we should stop trying to prop it up and let old approaches die so that new approaches can live. The most recent most catastrophic event in the history of our planet was the meteor strike that almost extinguished all life on the planet. Almost. It ended the age of dinosaurs and started the age of mammals. And friends, we are mammals. We might not be here at all if it were not for the catastrophe.
I don’t know what churches are going to look like in the future. I do know that in the midst of an occupation by a repressive foreign power, where religious authorities were collaborators, where the economic system was unjust and income inequality extreme, where women and many others were harshly discriminated against, in the midst of all this, Jesus preached that the kingdom of God is at hand. Do we not perceive it?
Charlie Kuchenbrod is the Executive Associate Conference Minister for the CT Conference, UCC.
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