The next 40 years

August 20, 2010

A commissioner to the General Assembly (our denomination’s national
meeting that happens every two years), came back to report on what he
did. He was a bit disappointed that he was on the church growth
committee. The first day they sat down and talked about how if the
church continues to decline at the same rate, then there will be no
members left in forty years. The second day, they studied Matthew 25.
The third day, they studied Matthew 25. They went on a couple of field
trips, and they studied Matthew 25 some more.

The people hearing the report were shocked. That was it? I mean Matthew 25 is super, but… that’s it?

Perhaps there was more to it than that, and that’s just what the
commissioner reported, but wow. Why not come up with a strategic plan
for growth? I realize that there is no denominational master plan that
we can follow. We tend to be much more grassroots. But we had the best
and the brightest minds of our denomination gathered in one place, why
not dream a bit about what we could do? We have a lot of money, a lot
of property, and some of the most gifted pastors… what could we do?
Here’s what I would love to see happen:

1) Become determined to keep our recent grads. If
anyone has met anyone who has recently graduated from seminary, you
will know that we have a glut of qualified candidates, and no place for
them to go. Actually. Let me rephrase that. We have some of the most
brilliant people in our church who are unemployed. I have seen the most
incredibly gifted minds walking around, wanting to be ordained, and we
have no place for them. Some of them are finding jobs as interns, or
working in seminaries, or non-profits, but they can’t get ordained
without a traditional call. Can we begin to open up our idea of what a
validated ministry is? Can we make sure that we track these graduates?
Could Presbyteries support them and encourage them while they look for
positions? Can we offer internships and educational opportunities for
them? (I know you guys need jobs, not more education, but untill
then….) We’re going to need them soon, and we don’t want to lose them.

2) Quit giving incentives to ministers who are past retirement to stay employed.
I’m not sure what other denominations are doing, but in the
Presbyterian Church (USA), pastors get incentives to stay in their jobs
beyond the age of 65. This is going to take action from the General
Assembly to change. I’ve written on this before, and here’s a comment
from a Pension representative to explain exactly what they’re doing.
With grads not able to get jobs, this seems like a bad idea.

3) Help churches to die well. There are many things
that we do, as pastors, when we stand beside the bed of someone who is
dying, and there are many things that we don’t do. It’s the same with
our churches. We don’t tell churches that they are failures because
they are dying. We don’t shame them for not living a few years longer.
We celebrate their lives. And with churches, we can help them to
imagine how they can use their resources and assets to plant new

4) Support people who want to plant churches. While
going to Bible School, I was told there was one way to “make disciples”
and that was to plant churches. In our denomination, only a couple of
New Church Developments were started nationally in the last couple of
years, but I know at least twelve people who would start a church
tomorrow, if they could. Many of them have been approved by the
denomination. They are raring to go, but there’s no place for them to
go. They have been told to just plant the church, and then look for
denominational support. But they have children. They need insurance.
They need some support.

I’m a part of a group of pastors who are starting to fundraise for
NCDs outside of the denominational systems. They are DOC, Presbyterian,
Methodist, and Post-evangelicals.

There will be some NCD failures, just like a percentage of new
businesses fail. We can plan for those. And we can let the pastors
decide what makes sense in their context—a traditional church, an
emerging church, a monastic community, a coffeehouse church, a nesting
church, or whatever…. There are a million ways to do it now.

Generation X is an entrepreneurial, innovative generation. We start
businesses. We create new technology. And we are itching to start new
churches. (The DOC is doing a great job of this.) And the Millenials
are a very large generation. Can we begin to imagine congregations that
make sense in their context?

Will we support our innovators? Will we allow people to retire? Will
we give dignity to churches who are dying? Can we have a better vision
for the next forty years? What would you like to see happen?

Orginally posted at Tribal Church.