It isn't difficult to close a church; it is difficult to DECIDE to close a church. ~NB Team
Next Blessings is a team that is helping churches in decline to discern and/or decide what's next…
The “blessing” of Next Blessings is that it is a team of ruling and teaching elders willing to begin a serious and important conversation with church leaders about dissolution.
Next Blessings is willing to help church leaders understand their options and to make decisions that will best serve Christ’s purposes in a certain time and place.
As church leaders/elders fulfill their vows to serve their congregations by discerning God's will, they will want to prayerfully and thoughtfully consider all the angles, all the facts, all the resources, and all the implications involved in making decisions regarding a church’s future. Next Blessings can help them do that.
ACCOMPANY, ASSESS, ADVISE…& ACCOUNTABILITY
1. Next Blessings will accompany church leaders along the way.
2. Next Blessings will assess, with church leaders, the health of the congregation, the financial status of the church, the state of the physical plant, any leadership issues, and an exegetical review of the community in which the church abides.
3. Next Blessings will advise church leaders about dissolution scenarios.
4. Next Blessings will help hold leaders accountable to clarify and complete their goals.
For 2,000 years, the Holy Spirit has been opening churches, and for 2,000 years, the Holy Spirit has been closing churches. ~NB Team
The journey may begin by a pastor or elder asking for Next Blessings to visit a congregation seeking more information and specific resources to discern their options.
Within our Presbytery, Next Blessings is often brought in after an assessment indicates a decline in energy or low adaptability. Next Blessings can help church leaders specifically address their energy and adaptability as these are key factors in helping churches serve their changing membership and communities on behalf of our unchanging God.
The session will benefit from looking through a theological lens as they approach an important conversation about dissolution. These Scripture passages may be useful in helping leaders enter an informed theological discussion together and with their membership:
- John 4 – Jesus reveals that our loving God will never be reduced to an address. No matter where we are, Christ will always be our proper place of worship. We cannot close the church of Christ.
- Psalm 23 – Dwelling in God's House forever means abiding in the household of God. This includes the relationship of the Father and the Son, and our invitation to abide now and forever with God and with one another. It isn't about the pasture, but about the shepherd. It isn’t about our building, but about our builder.
- John 20 – The church (ecclesia) was never intended to be a group of followers gathered within shut doors, wondering where Jesus is. If we aren't “opening” doors, then we are “closing” them… Ecclesia is about discipleship well beyond shut doors.
Churches can exist without pastors. Churches cannot exist without a session. ~NB Team
The discernment of God's will for the local congregation belongs to the session in our tradition. Congregations don’t close churches. Presbyteries do not close churches. Churches (sessions of churches) close churches.
In order to best fulfill their vows to God and their congregations, elders would certainly benefit from finding/understanding the facts (and not guessing) about the true state of their church’s affairs. There is no other entity that is responsible for the finances, buildings, ministry, decisions, and care for a congregation than the elders currently serving on session.
Next Blessings can help facilitate a variety of assessments to help church leaders in their discernment process and decision-making:
- Congregation – vitality, history, identity, family systems, mission/vision
- Leadership – Pastor, elders, other church officers, staff, others
- Administrative Structures – operations, leader training, compliance (Book of Order, State/Federal Laws, etc.)
- Finances – budget, future forecasting, giving/stewardship
- Facility – state of physical plant, maintenance/repairs, impact on budget
- Community– Mission and/or neighborhood exegesis
- Next Blessings is working on creating worksheets (financial review, facilities review, etc.) that might help sessions better prepare for assessments before they are contracted.
- Next Blessings can help arrange assessments and/or pay for assessments on a need basis.
- These assessments are instrumental in giving elders confidence in their discernment process; they also may provide useful information or bench-marks as church leaders determine a path forward.
There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it. ~Simon Sinek, “Start with Why”
As the NB Team continues to work with churches, we come across "best practices", articles, books, online sources, training/teaching videos, professional consultants/coaches, and other resources that may help congregations discern their future. We are building a database of these resources for church leaders to utilize.
Next Blessings could help to reframe various dissolution scenarios for a congregation. This will require thoughtfully looking at closing a church as a pastoral, loving, necessary step to ensure the ongoing health and faithfulness of church members. This will require examining perceived “non-negotiables” (like an onsite preschool, a cemetery, the care of aging members, any tenant agreements, creative merge options, and thoughtful disbursement of non-encumbered assets, etc.)
Next Blessings can help leaders identify potential turn-around initiatives. There may be some inexpensive, yet effective projects/programs that might spark transformation in declining churches.
Every pastor is an interim. Every church is in transition. ~NB Team
Churches in decline are not so much at an intersection as they are at a fork in the road--sessions and pastors need to discern both paths and all of the implications as they look to the future of the church. This will require them thoughtfully and carefully exploring two paths--the path of addressing their church vitality, including energy and adaptability issues, and the path of dissolution.
Next Blessings will encourage leaders to articulate WHY they do what they do. True turn-around initiatives are about revival not survival—many churches tend to acquiesce to a survival mentality when a decline is felt or named, so Next Blessings will ask elders to begin with WHY.
Next Blessings can help church leaders establish realistic goals and timelines based on information and insight gained from the assessments. Next Blessings could help elders establish goals and evaluate progress as they move forward.
Covenant agreements might be helpful to ensure follow through. If actions are successful, then sessions will be encouraged to keep on keeping on. If no action is taken or no change occurs, then the church leadership will need to reevaluate, adjust/adapt their plans, or contact the Committee on Ministry.