Thursday, February 26, 2009

help my church is dying: updated

Updated: Thanks to those who made comment. The morning went very well. The material I presented seem to frame a very positive conversation, frank, gutsy, faith-filled. Will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens next …

What would you say to a group of leaders you’ve never met, who wonder if there church is dying? Here are my current thoughts and I’d welcome comments and feedback.

Aim: outline and encourage a process of change that has continuity with past and openness to the future and is enhanced by an intentional alignment of resources.

Premise 0. We live in a missionfield.
Premise 1. The current state is not working. We are not good missionaries
Premise 2. Current state is working for some.
Premise 3. That the current state demands resources. The smaller the church gets, the more the current state sucks up resources.
Premise 4. God is always at work. This is a theological hope and a future compass.
Premise 5. What will it mean to gather resources around what God is doing? (Biblical narrative – Elijah text; Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you (19:7) / listen in new ways (19:11) / form new partnerships (19:15) cf Luke 10:1-12: Go (10.3) / Take no bags (10.4) / Kingdom is near (10.9)
Premise 6. Given 2 and 3, leaders need to be gut honest. Practically: how do we deploy existing resources for mission not preservation?

I am then planning to talk about what this looked like when we came to Opawa in terms of the “resources” that a church has:
– buildings
– financial assets
– goodwill (or illwill) in church community
– goodwill (or illwill) in wider community
– volunteers
– pastoral time
– creative capital
and narrate some of the hard and courageous work of re-alignment that began before and after I arrived, before inviting them to consider their context, working their way through their “resources”. My hope is that they will go away to put time into Premise 4, before meeting again to consider Premise 5 and 6.


Posted by steve at 04:04 PM


  1. Steve,

    In regard to resources, how do we locate, recognize, and encourage further development of resources outside of the church so as to further help the growth of the church? Things like church members’ partnerships and relationships with people in places of business, in the marketplace, in “mommy groups” (I don’t know if you have those), and the like. I have often wondered how many of the tax collectors sitting at table with Jesus were at some point actually acquaintances with Matthew, you know? This would gear premise four toward the question of how God is doing these things outside of the church walls.

    Quick question- has the church in New Zealand ever flourished?

    And, Jeanine and I will be in prayer for you in regard to this meeting as well as in prayer for the pastors coming to hear!!

    Peace friend.

    Comment by Dan Lowe — February 27, 2009 @ 3:47 am

  2. Dan,
    I think what you say is covered by my “form new partnerships (19:15)”.

    Life usually does come from unexpected places. But I wonder if churches in a stuck place are there because they have lost their ability to recognise that life and let resource enable that life to flourish. Hence my premises.

    In terms of your question – Pakeha church has never really flourished – attendance over 150 years from 25% to 15%. Maori church has seen pockets of revival, esp 1840s and East Coast in the late 1960s. But you should know this cos up till know, you’ve been pretty quick to make assumptions about our history in terms of colonisation. So it’s not a genuine question is it?


    Comment by steve — February 27, 2009 @ 8:13 am

  3. Thanks you for this Steve.
    It set me thinking about how ecumenism is dying and what to do about that.
    I often wonder about our images of dying in the church and also about how we think about palliative care … we often let things die without caring too much …

    Comment by jane — February 27, 2009 @ 11:23 am

  4. I really like that you have included premise 4. Have you considered using appreciative inquiry at some point since I presume they are all from one denomination, possibly with a shared history in which God was also active?

    Comment by Kerry — February 27, 2009 @ 12:41 pm

  5. thanks kerry. yes i have considered appreciative inquiry and i am planning to give them some specific questions to help them do this, based on appreciative inquiry but with a twist, given I know a bit about this group. the questions are –

    Tell me about when the church was at it’s best? What are people passionate about? How is that expressed? What are the stories from those who’ve been baptised? How can those passions and those stories be expressed in the future?

    (i did not put these in this post, cos I feared they might clutter my main headings).


    Comment by steve — February 27, 2009 @ 12:57 pm

  6. Steve,

    You could also look at the systemic patterns over the life of the church and see when they have had to face things in their past. How they did this? What God was doing then? What God is asking of them now? What changes has God been making in the local community?, etc…

    Great promise points. All true.


    Comment by Andrew — February 27, 2009 @ 8:21 pm

  7. Steve,

    In actuality, it was a genuine question, the reason being I was going to ask what happened then that effected the growth of the church and whether it was worth looking toward that for today. While in seminary, we learned the importance of the influence of the “great cloud of witnesses,” or the influence of our ancestors in the faith continuing to have impact on the present for the future. So, that’s all it was.

    Yep, I see what you’re getting at in regard to forming new partnerships.

    Looks like great stuff, Steve. I imagine it’s going to be a great conference/meeting!!


    Comment by Dan Lowe — February 28, 2009 @ 3:33 am

  8. ah. appreciate the clarity Dan.

    both you and Andrew have suggested looking backward. i’m ambivalent about that, as recalling “the glory days” can often limit imagination for the future.


    Comment by steve — February 28, 2009 @ 7:16 am

  9. steve

    I want to thank you for this and for your original post which have given me much food for thought over recent days. (there and their is also my favourite typo – sorry I’ve been drinking too much Pouilly Fuissé you should see my typos in French and English – surpassed onyl by my typos in German)
    I’ve been thinking about death it in terms of the denomination I come from in the UK, the French church I am now part of and what I see in the Swisss Protestant churhces. what does palliative care mean in pastoral terms for the church??
    what your post also helped me to think about was the death of institutions rather than the death of churches – I’m trying to think about how your criteria – or maybe others too – might apply and help renew church and ecumenical institutions. It’s quite a challenge!
    Aynway thank you for everything you write – we have a good friend who’s just moved from Geneva to Christchurch, I should Methodist – she was very impressed when I was able to tell her what was going on in the centre of town thanks to your blog!

    Thansk you for your thinking and writing. It’s good – come and visit us in geneva some time – even if we haven’t got a U2 convention!

    Comment by jane — March 3, 2009 @ 9:13 am

  10. Thanks Jane. We talked about palliative care on Saturday and I framed it in 2 ways:
    1) what legacy do you want to leave your grandchildren
    2) the story of entry to promised land – a generation had to die – what values did they leave as their children moved into a new future,

    Geneva is a long way away from NZ. I’ve had few invites to UK/Europe, but never enough to pay all the expenses. if i do, i’ll see what i can do.


    Comment by steve — March 4, 2009 @ 5:14 pm

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