In recent months, I have had the opportunity to facilitate conversations with two churches about their future direction. No final decisions are made in such meetings, but members of the congregation share their positive experiences, what they value, and their dreams for the future.
As they share what gives life to them in their faith community, shared values emerge quickly. These values provide a standard for measuring the viability of their dreams for the future. The hard work is sorting through any disparity between what is important and what they hope to do in the future.
If the church is healthy, the choice is often between many good options. They still have the resources to dream and create. If the church is in decline, the options are more limited and usually rather painful to consider, let alone implement.
One thing I have learned from these sessions is that it is important to have such conversations before a crisis comes. When the church still has the spiritual, emotional, physical, and financial resources to make choices, there are possibilities for creativity, commitment, and change. When the church is already in a death spiral, options are limited and difficult to accept. It is unfortunate that some churches only undertake these conversations when the crisis is already severe.
We find similarities in individual end of life situations. Adults need to have conversations with loved ones about their desires related to health care, medical decisions, and funerals. Those of us who are pastors have watched family members who have maintained a tenuous balance in their relationships over the years who suddenly must face difficult choices about aging parents and the system crashes. There is often bitterness, accusation, and expressions of long-suppressed feelings. As individuals, we can have conversations with family while we are still able, share our desires, and perhaps ease some of this burden.
Why do we as individuals and as churches defer these conversations? Fear, apathy, and denial are possible reasons. We are afraid of what may surface, we are willing to let someone else take care of the situation in the future, or we think it won’t happen to us.
Challenges come to churches as well as individuals. Let’s have intentional, life-affirming conversations while we still can.