Maybe it was just January. We were meeting the day after ‘Blue Monday”, which is supposed to be the saddest day of the year. It felt like it. Most of us are pastors of churches that are at a similar point on the life cycle of the church bell curve; we are somewhere past the peak or, depending on your point of view, on the downward slope. We’d read the literature, we were aware of the challenges, and we were not encouraged. More than that, we were weary and the churches we served felt the same.
Maybe it was just January, because the challenges we faced were not specifically ‘January’ challenges. A decline in attendance might be especially evident in the first month of a year, but it is part of a pattern experienced by other churches. It is also one of a series of trends common to the Christian Reformed Church detailed in the Strategic Planning and Adaptive Change Team (SPACT) report. While that team could do with a more user friendly name (adaptive change is jargon that needs too much explaining) the report does describe the climate that makes for Blue Tuesdays for pastors and Blue Sundays for congregations.
A report on an SPACT event commented that classes do not have the resources needed to help churches in this climate. That begs a couple of questions; what resources do classes need, and what can classes can do to help weary churches? As the report itself points out, we have not traditionally looked to classes to play this kind of role. Classes have been viewed as deliberative bodies focussed on polity, not as mission agencies. Even when churches are looking for support, classes might not be the place they look. An Alban Institute article says that congregations are increasingly finding resources on the internet and not from their denominations (“Shifts You Should Know About”). A debate in my classes made the same point. It questioned the value of classical staff when most churches go directly to the denomination or the internet for resources. That debate also illustrated that an era of tight budgets cramps efforts to find creative solutions to systemic problems.
Still, a classis will be closer to a congregation than either a denomination or internet resource and therefore ought to be better positioned to support that congregation. An era of tight budgets also means that denominational resources are less available for regional ministry, creating opportunities for classical ministries. And, in spite of the challenges, classes have been working to become more missional.
That suggests that there is wisdom to be shared. What has your classis done to support and strengthen congregations? What has worked? What has not worked? What resources does a classis need to help churches dealing with blue Tuesdays?