The Lay of the Land
It seems there is plenty to worry about in the church today. Growing congregations in the mainline churches are in the minority. Many more congregations have plateau-ed or are diminishing in numbers. Some folks are concerned about the graying of congregations and the absence of people in their twenties or thirties. Others worry about the increased costs of ministry and decreased congregational giving. Still others worry about the diminishing pool of both leaders and “worker bees” for the many tasks of ministry. In some congregations, anxiety over change and/or the threat of loss is acted out in unhealthy and inappropriate ways that can lead to serious conflict.
Would you characterize your congregation as anxious or hopeful about the future? Rate your congregation on a scale of one to ten, where one is “scared to death” and ten is “the sky’s the limit.”
What is your chief concern for your congregation’s future?
What is your best hope?
Voices from Our Maine Conference Churches
“Our congregation wants to grow, but largely for financial and legacy reasons.”
“Sometimes the older generation wants to hold onto power, rather than passing it on the younger folks.”
“We don’t know if we’re going to exist in twenty years.”
“Conflict is a natural part of church life; the issue is how it is handled.”
“So many of our leaders are burned out.”
Do any of the above voices express concerns present in your congregation?
Do you think your congregation is more interested in growing in order to share God’s love and gracious welcome or in order to pay church bills and share the workload? What causes you to answer the way you do?
Is your congregation effective in raising up, equipping, empowering, and supporting new leaders, or do you tend to burn out the leaders that you have? Do you think your congregation gives enough attention to issues of leadership?
How well do you think your church deals with conflict? Would you say it is more proactive, operating out of core faith values, or more reactive, responding to complaints? Do church leaders know how to handle conflict constructively? Is abusive and unhealthy behavior tolerated for fear of losing members, or are there clear congregational norms for appropriate Christian behavior?
Voices from Scripture
Read aloud Isaiah 43: 1-3a & 16-21 and Matthew 6: 25-33
Would you say your congregation is rooted more in its past or its future, better at remembering former things or perceiving God’s new thing?
How excited are you about the new thing God is doing in your midst? (Do you not perceive it?) Take some time to share with one another how you see God moving in your congregation and in your community.
We often read the passage from Matthew in personal terms. Are Jesus’ words appropriate for a faith community, too? Is your congregation overly pre-occupied with the many cares and worries of congregational maintenance?
What might it mean for your congregation to strive first for “the Kingdom of God and its righteousness”? Is the righteousness of God’s Kingdom about moral rectitude, or about something else? What do Jesus’ parables suggest about Kingdom righteousness?
This study was written as a result of a 2003 sabbatical project by:
Director of Local Church Resources
Maine Conference, United Church of Christ