The Future of Church
The Future of Church
'It's like thinking outside the box - without the box!'
I heard this phrase at an online clergy conference, a few months into 2020, when we all moved instantly to online ministry.
But I don’t know. Between you and me, I’ve heard lots of ministers fantasize out loud about what it would be like if their buildings disappeared!
Truly, they love the church, and they love its sacred spaces. They love their congregations. But for decades now, we have felt the burden of decline. We are exhausted by how much energy we use keeping up with the buildings, and with keeping everything like it has always been.
We don’t really want to lose our buildings, but lots of us would not mind losing the box of institutional expectations that keeps us from serving as we are truly called.
Especially since fewer and fewer congregations can afford full-time clergy service - most cannot these days. Many struggle to afford half-time salary and benefits combined. Clergy and other ministers struggle to find full-time work with congregations in the traditional model.
1. Truly Online Ministry. As we move past simply broadcasting in-person worship, we open up into new ways of engaging our faith fully online, and truly combining online and in-person ministry. Online ministry can be things like church management systems, which today come with automations making it easier to administrate smaller, less-staffed congregations. They also make it easier to help members grow in their relationship with God, connecting them with resources and events for growing in faith.
2. Ministers as Faith Practitioners. Many clergy already feel stifled being ‘CEOs of small non-profits’ - concerned more about the administrative aspects of running an organization (out of necessity), and having less energy for the spiritual leadership we are called to. Now we are considering how to be doctors of faith in a spiritually suffering world. We serve congregations - and we serve the wider church, and the wider world. We can serve multiple congregations, organizations, and individuals at the same time.
3. Congregations as entrepreneurial communities. The truth is, most people - especially younger people - are not going to walk through the doors of our churches these days.
There needs to be more 'bringing church to people' than bringing people to church.
Taking a page from the small business model and thinking about marketing - who are we trying to reach? Why? What difference will it make in their lives? - will keep us true to the foundations of our faith, and why it matters that we know how much we are loved by God.
4. A whole new approach to money and ministry. It's the third rail of ministry - how to pay for it. Pledge campaigns are no longer effective enough to sustain most congregations. Clergy struggle to live on the part-time salaries, while doing full-time work.
Many of us are already doing these things out of necessity. We can keep doing them out of audacity.
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