by Ken Howard
In our early days of consulting with congregations and dioceses around issues of congregational vitality and sustainability, I had the opportunity to consult with two imperiled congregations: an inner city congregation and a suburban congregation (represented in the above maps on the left and right, respectively). In both cases, our work was pro-bono. In both cases, we were brought in at the request of the bishops and for obvious reasons, will not be identifying the congregations, their dioceses, or their bishops.
With the exception of their locations – different cities in different dioceses, one in the inner city, one in the near suburbs – both congregations were in very nearly the same condition:
- Depleted membership: under 50 and falling.
- Bare bones attendance: under 25 and falling.
- Aging out: Few if any children (mostly aging Boomers),
- Unable to afford a full-time pastor.
- Majority of revenue from rental income.
- Majority of operating expenses from a rapidly-decreasing endowment (both said that if they really stretched it they could eke out another 10 years before they went under).
- Spiking increase in Giving per Household (both congregations were proud of this, but it’s usually a last ditch attempt to stave off the seeming inevitability of closure).
Discussions with imperiled congregations are always fraught with emotion: denial, fear, anger, sorrow, guilt, resentment, and more. This is probably a big reason why, in most cases, congregations and their judicatory leaders avoid talking with each other about it (though both have seen the proverbial “writing on the wall”) until it’s too late to turn things around. And even then, there is a lot of “crap” to cut through, because most imperiled congregations have had a long time (sometimes decades) to come up with great (often blame-ridden) reasons about why the judicator should invest lots of resources to keep them afloat, most of which begin, “If only judicatory would [insert “Hail Mary” solution here].”
One of the great advantages of doing data-grounded Neighborhood Missional Assessment with an interactive, demographic analytical tool like MapDash for Faith Communities is that it cuts through the crap and rapidly facilitates transparent discussions about the vitality and sustainability of the congregation, and mutual discernment and planning around what, if any, strategies might revitalize the congregation.[Read more…]