The Secret List

In a Presbytery in which I once served, there were whispers of a “Secret List” held among the leadership.  The covert list included three columns:

  • The Healthy Churches
  • The Churches Just One Crisis Away from Disaster
  • The Dying/Dead Churches

The largest group was the middle column of congregations just one leaky roof, one kitchen fire, one sexual misconduct pastor away from life and death disaster.

The healthy churches were not necessarily “large” congregations in terms of numbers, but they was energy and vitality in the community.

The dead churches were – for the most part –  satisfied to struggle along until the coffers were empty and the last member was gone.

I’m not sure why this list was so secret.  Some churches live in serious denial of their vulnerability, and it seems to be a good idea to share the seriousness of their situation.  Sure, some congregations don’t want to hear the truth.   But there are others who need for us to look them square in the eye and say these words:  There is no way your congregation will be in existence 3 years from now without some serious shifts in the way you do ministry together.

Because I now work for The Presbytery and am immediately suspect (see this post) some congregations assume that I want them to close so that we can “take their building” or simply control them.  Actually all I want – and I honestly mean this – is for congregations to thrive and grow and transform people and neighborhoods in the name of Jesus Christ.

We are now in the process of discerning the health and future of our individual congregations and I need your help:

What metrics would you use to measure a congregation’s vitality and health?

What columns would you use to differentiate the thriving congregations from the fragile congregations?

How would you organize this list?

And finally: what is the best way to share the truth with congregations about their need to make changes in their ministry?  How can we get them to hear those of us who serve them?

And when we figure these things out, we won’t be keeping this list a secret anymore.  It’s time to act in faith to be a new church for the 21st Century.

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4 responses to “The Secret List

  1. Amen to that, Jan!

  2. Jan, my D.Min. work is aimed at thinking about your last question, and also on developing an assessment tool. I had been in some conversation with Ginny not too long after I left Chicago Presbytery about possibly doing some work in Chicago as a “practicum.” Anyway, thanks for posing these important questions.

  3. Would love to hear what you and Ginny discussed re: working in Chicago. Do you mean doing a practicum as part of a DMin project? I’ve wondered about setting up a Field Education site within COM at the Presbytery Office.

    • I think there were a couple of different ideas: one about working with smaller churches in the Presbytery, and one about possibly working with COM. It would have been like a D.Min. practicum (I’ve fulfilled the requirement, but wanted to do something to get theory into practice). I’m about halfway through my D.Min. and am thinking about healthcare parallels (and palliative care models) as a way to talk about churches.

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