Both of my parents died of cancer. I’ve lost friends to cancer. The one (and only) advantage to having terminal cancer is that you get time to prepare to die. You get to say good bye and put your affairs in order and arrange things the way you’d like them arranged. You have a bit of control for what happens after you die.
There are moments when – even when facing the inevitable – we live in denial. I remember talking with my brother about Christmas plans to be spent with Dad who was in treatment with terminal non-Hodgkins. It was August, and my brother was stunned that I believed Dad would still be alive in December. And I was shocked that my brother thought Dad would be not be with us. Dad died later that week.
So today, I work with many churches that are dying. Some are clearly in the 4th Quadrant of the Life Cycle of the Church. Others are in the 3rd Quadrant.
Here’s my question:
What do we do with churches that are in denial that they are dying? Or maybe they understand that death will happen, but it’s years away – maybe after their pastor retires or the roof caves in or after they themselves die.
As with human beings, death for churches can happen suddenly or very slowly. But usually it’s slow.
Dying well involves:
- Accepting that death is coming.
- Dividing up our resources and treasures so that others can enjoy them.
- Saying good-bye and celebrating the life that has been lived.
How do we know a church is really dying?
- The struggle for survival overwhelms all other activities and plans.
- The purpose for the congregation’s existence cannot be articulated by most of the congregation.
- Too few people are living out the mission of the church in their own daily lives, much less as a community.
- People have forgotten that the church belongs to God (and not to the members.)
Sometimes I sit in sanctuaries during worship gatherings and think to myself, “This church is dying and they don’t even know it.”
So, how do I convey – in as loving a way as possible – that they are dying and I want them to have a good death – in a way that they can hear me? I would love your answers on this.