Welcome to a challenging and timely conversation about your congregation! We assume that getting to this point has been a journey for you and for the people with whom you serve. You’re trying to name hard realities, acknowledge unmet hopes, savor memories, wonder about the future, and put your trust anew in the God who was, and is, and is to come (Rev. 1:4). In this process we hope to help you do all of these things well.
This process is designed for leaders and members like you who sense that
- the ongoing ministry of your congregation may soon face significant challenges.
- your congregation in its present form might not be sustainable.
- your congregation may soon have to make important decisions about its future.
- good stewardship of the resources God has given for ministry and mission may mean crucial changes are needed.
In other words, if you think the viability of your congregation may be an important issue in the next five years, it’s probably a good time to begin this process.
This process will help you prepare for and lead a congregational conversation in which your people engage the past, name the present, and discern the future together. One of our guiding convictions is that in light of Christ’s resurrection there is always hope. Of course, that hope may well be realized in ways that you don’t expect today. But it will be realized, by the grace of God, for your blessing and for his glory in the world.
One of the key dynamics in any conversation about viability is that of stewardship. There are pastoral needs and concerns that are powerful and real—for individual members as well as the community. There are also practical needs and concerns about leadership, finances, membership numbers, and the time/energy inputs of volunteers. And there’s the relationship of your congregational story to the kingdom story in Scripture. How do you understand God’s hand in your stories, and your hand in God’s big story?
This is a process of discernment. To do this well, it’s important that each step of the process be engaged in the sequence that has been laid out. There’ll always be a temptation to move quickly to the decision point, and perhaps even to skip one or more steps. We respectfully advise against any kind of shortcut. The process is designed so that folks can weigh-in and participate, allowing ultimate decisions to be owned together. In our experience, churches that take the time to engage the whole process feel much more hopeful and committed to whatever is decided and acted upon at the end of the process.
There are several stages in this process: preparing for the journey, gathering your congregation, engaging the past, naming the present, and discerning the future—all leading to the decision either to reimagine your life together as a congregation or to close for the purpose of providing a legacy gift to some type of ministry that serves the coming of God’s kingdom. For each of these stages we have a page in the toolkit, highlighting steps to follow, resources to explore, and activities to engage in. Your facilitator will help you choose which of the resources to use and which activities might best fit your congregation so as to achieve the goal of a particular stage. In addition to choosing activities, you can get creative in how to tackle them. Some will work well in a retreat setting.