When We Cannot Stay Here

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There comes a time in the life of most congregation’s when the conclusion is reached “we cannot stay here.” That moment may be precipitated by congregational giving that no longer supports a full-time pastor. It may be reached when the loss of membership demands key programs be eliminated. It may come when there are too few volunteers to fill key leadership roles. It may show up when there are too few children to maintain a traditional children’s or youth ministry investment. Alternatively, the precipitating factor may simply be an awareness that we’ve lost our first love and recapturing fresh passion and renewed vision is essential.

Whatever precipitates the conclusion “we cannot stay here” the next question always is, “so where do we go from here?” Churches asking that question have several next-step options.

Next-step options include:

Continue

Some congregations realizing they cannot stay here choose to continue until they run out of gas. As fuel supplies diminish they adjust the ministry plan until only simple Sunday worship services and basic pastoral care remains. This choice tends to be the least difficult but also the least Kingdom advancing. Occasionally churches that choose to continue will nest a church plant and/or a multi-ethnic ministry in their facility and then gift the facility to them when the mother church completes their journey.

Close & Bless

Some congregations realizing that they cannot stay here choose to work through the difficult process of closing their ministry and distributing their people, finances and facility resources to bless other kingdom work. The celebration of a completed congregational story can be surprisingly fulfilling.

Merge or Network

Still other congregations realizing they cannot stay here find a ministry partner to reinvigorate their congregational story. Sometimes this demands relocating into another faith community. Sometimes it demands letting a healthier congregation take over operational leadership of the church. Sometimes it demands joining with other churches who have diminished resources in a new co-equal partnership.

Renew

Many congregations realizing they cannot stay here make the bold all-in choice of congregational renewal. They identify a new God-preferred future that is focused on becoming an intentional missional congregation that makes more and better disciples who transform lives and communities for Christ. In choosing renewal they embrace new investments necessary to journey from “here” to “there.” The renewal process demands deep thinking, systemic changing and significant risk taking. But when renewal takes hold the sense of God’s new empowerment for a revitalized future is a joy to experience!

Restart

The path least taken but occasionally most impactful is the decision to restart. Restarting demands shuttering a ministry for 6-18 months and restarting with new pastoral leadership, a new vision team, a new approach to ministry and a new conversation with the community. This path demands that a congregation dies to itself and is reborn as a mission.

If your congregation has concluded that you cannot stay here, the Church Renewal Lab can point you in the direction of helpful resources in discussing your best next step. You can contact the Lab at [email protected] or by leaving a comment below. 

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