The other day I got a notice that another of the church starts here in the California-Pacific Annual Conference was being closed down. The funding was being pulled and the community of faith was going to quit.
My first thought was of pain and anguish for the community and for the pastor who had spent so much time (5 years) getting the community together, established, growing it, and bringing it together. And then, I realized that he would continue to have a job as an Elder in Full-Connection, so he would be provided for in some aspect.
My second thought turned me to anger at the Annual Conference that decided to pull the funding. And I remembered that we are in a financial cut-back here in the conference, and we are trying to determine where to pull funding sources to fund our ministries. We have already not filled positions at the Conference office that are open, and we will be running with one less camp director in the new year. It should come as no surprise that we are not funding another church start up, and should be considering cutting funding to churches already on equitable compensation.
My third thought turned a proverbial corner. I wondered why the community of faith felt it needed to disband without a full-time pastor at the head. I remember hearing of several churches (albeit few in the UMC) that have begun in recent times with a faithful cadre of families who wanted to be United Methodist meeting, growing and establishing themselves, before they asked for a pastor and a charter to be created.
I wondered why several of the other UMCs in the area could not get together and fund from endowments, or special offerings the pastor for one or two more years, consider what has already been given in time and energy, and the impact the United Methodist Church has already made in this burgeoning community.
I was in a quandry why we as a Conference are so asset heavy, and personnel poor. We have church properties that are sitting abandoned at this time, that should be sold, or restarted. I marvel at the churches that have gone ahead and dispensed with the physical locations, sold them and developed a new model of ministry (which happens to be an ancient one) by returning the congregations to small group studies.
I have to admit I am still in anguish. I worry that the world has passed us by so far that as a denomination we cannot recover to the speed of ministry, and effective transmission of the Gospel. I have no doubt that communities of faith in the local church may survive, but that the denomination is too far gone.
And then I hear stories like those of the North Alabama Conference and their tactical shift in ministry that has decentralized the Conference Connectional team. I see the connection to dispersing a local church to pockets of small groups. Decentralizing is going to be the key. And, for those that want to see that more clearly, check out a little book called "The Starfish and the Spider"
If we do that we will be spending less time worrying about the one new church start that doesn't make it, and more about the people in our pews and on our membership roles being church starts of their own. What if church isn't a place, or even a community, but a bunch of individuals who act like church, whereever they are and whenever they are.
Re-think church starts.