As I keep musing about the state of the United Church of Canada, I keep adding things to my article / sermon, The Long Emergency.
You can open an the Adobe PDF version of this update by clicking here.
The most recent change is a new footnote where I add some cautions about the successful resiliency by which the congregation has met the challenges of the past 40 years.
The caution about the successful resilience and creativity is 5 fold:
First. The successful resilience has addressed only two of the three crucial ABC’s of congregational life: Building maintenance and Cash. It has failed to respond to Attendance.
Second. The result is that many congregations now have buildings and budgets that are way out of proportion to their actual attendance. When this happens, buildings and budgets become burdens instead of assets. They require a disproportionate amount of the congregation’s volunteer time and effort. Fewer and fewer resources are available for supporting and developing attendance.
Third. Since this has been going on for 40 years, we now have two generations of leaders whose only experience has been adapting to decline. Many of these leaders have made sacrificial commitments. They have desired growth but have experienced only decline. Over time, repeated experience become habit and expectation. We have become habituated to decline and disappointment and expect it. It is our “normal.” Our structures enable it. It is our familiar feeling; our comfort zone.
Changing systemic, ingrained habits and expectations is hard, painful work. The shift that is required will be experienced more like death and catastrophic disruption than like “emerging.”
Four. No one intended this, but the truth is we have come to value our buildings more than we value attendance. That is, most congregations would vote to stay in their building rather than leave their building to reach new people. Everyone wants new people of course. But only within the existing building. Congregations will stay in their buildings and allow attendance to decline to the point of closure rather than change habits and expectations, and leave the familiar in order to risk increasing attendance.
Five. As someone who is in “paid accountable ministry,” it is difficult for me to acknowledge this, but we are part of this inherited problem too. Individually, we too have only experienced decline; it is our habit and expectation and training. We too have no effective ideas, expectations or training to reach new people. And because our livelihoods (i.e. food, clothes, housing, etc.) are at stake, it is difficult for us to be real risk takers. Given this “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” bind, it is no wonder so many of us are experiencing disabling stress.