Six months. Apparently in trauma research there is some evidence that a six month window marks a significant milestone for many. Professor of Political Science Aisha Ahmad, of the University of Toronto, has written and tweeted about this. It may have to do with how our heads, hearts and bodies have navigated and adapted to the new circumstances. That’s a hunch on my part, not from the research. It seems true in my own case, and I’ve observed it, I think, in others. I’m curious about your experience of this.
I’ll name my current experience, and then try to unpack it some.
I’m back. That’s really how it’s felt over the last few weeks. A slow emergence, like waking from a dream. Or like when you’ve felt congested for a long time, so you can’t see, smell, taste or hear well, and then the congestion clears and the world opens up.
I look in the mirror in the morning and think, “Oh, there you are…” It feels good. Like getting a second wind and now feeling ready to settle into a comfortable long distance stride.
I’m aware that I haven’t been fully present in my external life over the last six months. At work this coincided with our hiring a full time colleague, who has taken on more than her share of the responsibilities - partly because I wasn’t fully present and partly because, well, she’s a “get stuff done” kind of gal and so she’s been taking up the slack. And sometimes it’s easier to just do it yourself than ask for help, but that’s another discussion. ;-)
Everyone’s been living the Covid Pandemic Upheaval. We’re not “all in the same boat” as some have wanted to say. We are all in the same storm, but some are in luxury yachts and some are clinging to pieces of floating wood. Me, I’m doing better than many in terms of not having my income disrupted, and I’ve tried to do my part to help some others. My work as a pastor has been affected in all the expected ways, and then some (more on that in a minute). School for our son. Spouse work stress. You know all that stuff. It’s weird, and hard, but so far we are weathering it ok, i think. (Denial? Maybe.)
More personally, there’s been the disruption of our congregation’s life even before covid hit our shores. Central has been declining for decades, and at the beginning of 2020 it became apparent to me that we’d fallen below a threshold for realistic recovery. People had become so disengaged that we were below 25 in total attendance for months BEFORE the covid shutdown. (NOTE: 25 in worship is perfectly respectable, but not when you are spending half a million dollars each year, more than a hundred thousand from reserve funds. That had been the pattern for several decades.)
So on March 8th (covid was here but we still weren’t expecting THIS) I told our Elder Board that I believed the time had come to acknowledge that the congregation was nearing the end of it’s viable life, and that it would need to be allowed to close in a dignified way, or change and be reborn in dramatic fashion. The elders took several weeks to pray, and then unanimously agreed, with one even responding, “Ken has said for us, out loud, what all of us have been thinking but no one wanted to say.” So we entered into a 3 month engagement with Eddie Hammett, chronicled elsewhere, but never were honest in that process about this starting premise, so we didn’t get out of that what we should. (Absolutely not Eddie’s fault.)
Through April, May, June and into July I was anticipating that we would probably be drawing the congregation to a close, and that we might not be able to gather in person again before that time. Honestly, I was experiencing some, “How much effort should we put into this if it’s only going to be around another month or two?” reflection on our planning and programming at church, including but not limited to our online worship production. I was spending nearly all of my energy (which was already limited) trying to discern and lead the closure of the congregation based upon the Elders’ agreement that this is indeed where we were headed.
I’d never done this before. I was grieving. I felt like a failure. I sympathized with the congregation and community who would lose what the congregation could offer. AND I studied and strategized what to do and how to lead in this situation. I felt an increasingly heavy burden to both help the congregation die well, and also to try and keep the campus ministries alive and growing.
Now (September 28, 2020) we are at the end of another 3 month process that has resulted in two dramatic proposalsThe first is for closing the congregation, selling the campus, and creating a charitable fund that would make grants to worthy causes. The second is for the continued growth and flourishing of our campus model - “Central Westside: A hub of community engagement, innovation and impact and an incubator for new churches and ministries.” Both ideas have merit, and would result in significant blessing for many people. I strongly favor the second option.
I grieve that some cannot see that the work we are doing on the campus is impacting people’s lives. They do not value it as highly as what they think might be done through the gifts of a new charitable fund. Their words make this clear, though they bristle when this is articulated. I grieve for the scores of congregation members who have left over the last 3 years because they did not believe in the campus mission center strategy. They either stated that it isn’t the work of the church, or that they liked it but didn’t believe it could succeed. The congregation could have experienced dramatic renewal and even revival and new growth had they embraced the campus work as Their Ministry. I will wonder for years to come if anything could have been done differently to change the outcome and avoid this present circumstance.
So we’ve also been at that discernment process for six months. Through it all, we’ve seen a renewal of energy among some members, a “gumption” and feistiness (not always friendly or gracious and sometimes mean-spirited). Whether these are enough for renewal, or are simply the last surge of energy before the end, I’ve no idea. I’ve always believed in the campus and still am confident it is God’s will that this work continue. I’m beginning to wonder if there are enough people in the congregation who are willing to make the major changes and do the hard work for a new birth. I’d like to think so. I also know it’s much easier and healthier for congregations to be born from scratch rather than trying to instill a new culture in an old organization. We are, after all, creatures of pattern and habit.
AND, my dad died six months ago tomorrow.
I’m not sure what else to say about that at this moment, other than that it’s had a significant influence on my mental fog. Six months of the stages of grief. Six months without the man who has been a constant source of personal and professional wisdom and encouragement for my whole life. And of reflecting on the parts of him I never got to know. We never moved from Father and Son to friends the way some do. Six months of being an orphan (Mom died October 28, 1997).
In the meantime, we’ve also become empty nesters, of a sort. Our youngest is a college freshman, but he and his sister are both close enough that many weekends we have at least one overnight guest. And we are remodeling our empty nest, which is expensive and frustrating and has gotten delayed by covid, etc… So there’s lots of additional change, upheaval even, and the accompanying stress.
Each of us would do well to consider the Holmes Rahe Stress Inventory as a check in on how much stress we might be experiencing. My current score is far too high, so I am actively taking steps to lower it, and to counteract stress with healthier habits of food, drink, exercise, and spiritual practices. I also started counseling in August. And I've started keeping a gratitude journal which is surprisingly impactful for how simple it is. And I'm working to communicate honestly with others about my journey, including saying, "I haven't been my best self. Not making excuses, but here's what's been going on." If I get some grace in return, that would be lovely.
The last six months have been hard on everyone.
Please be sure you are taking care of yourself, and each other.
Congregations Pivoting For Impact
Ken Crawford & Daryn DeZengotitaWednesday, Sept. 16th, 3:00 p.m. CST
This presentation will discuss some of the innovative ways churches are shifting for the sake of sustainability and social impact.
See below for introductory videos and questions, and the session handout.
Rev. Dr. Ken G. Crawford began working with congregations in 1990 to design, launch and lead social impact work using a model that came to be known as Asset Based Community Development. Ken’s work employs a coaching approach with those who are motivated to experience change and transformation in their lives, organizations and communities. In the last 15 years that has involved helping congregations pivot to deploy their underutilized spaces for mission - becoming hubs of community engagement, innovation and impact. He lives near Dallas, Texas with his wife, where they serve in a variety of community social impact spaces. They have two adult children and two cats.
Daryn DeZengotita is a Coworking Evangelist and Hospitality is her superpower. At Table Coworking, she consults with churches to transform underutilized space into vibrant community centers. As part of Harvard Divinity School's Innovative Community Leaders, she is exploring new forms of joyful belonging and gathering. Daryn holds a Journalism degree from Texas A&M. She and her wife, Celia, live in the Dallas suburbs with an enormous puppy and a frightened cat.
To PIVOT is to change the direction of energy, force or intention.
SOCIAL IMPACT entails moving beyond charity to deep engagement,
mutuality, and shared personal and systemic transformation.
PRE-SESSION WORK:Here are some video links that help tell the story of congregational pivoting:
Central Christian Church: The Church on Mission
Central Westside: A Community Center Model
Oakland Peace Center & FCC Oakland
White Rock UMC and The Mix Coworking:
Leveraging the Campus || Engaging the Community
Questions for Consideration. Please comment in the RESPONSE window below:
Justin is embarking on the next stage of his transformational work through The Julian Way by partnering with The Neighboring Movement to incorporate Asset Based Community Development and Spiritual Companionship and Direction. Here's an overview for you to read and share.
Synchronous Life Model: Six Domains of Human Flourishing
Integrity. Vitality. Harmony.
The Synchronous Life is one in which all the aspects of our lives integrate and harmonize so that we can flourish and grow toward the fullness of the image of Christ (Eph 4:13). This is accomplished, or at least approached, as we find our way of living out God’s call on our lives, in each area of our lives. Paul describes the Body of Christ with allusion to the human body, and makes clear that wholeness is only found when each part is working properly, doing that for which it has been created. This can only be true of the church (in any manifestation) if it is first true of the human person. These notions of individuality, uniqueness, and “what is fitting to each” require that we see clearly ourselves, those around us, and our context. Our ministry leadership, whatever the setting, deserves our best. We cannot give to others what we ourselves lack. We must drink from the well if living water is to flow forth from us to the world.
Six Domains of Human Flourishing is the model by which we map the interrelated facets of who we are and how we show up in the world. We work with three internal/external pairs: Spiritual / Physical; Emotional / Relational; Intellectual / Occupational.
This model of Wholeness is rooted in the creation stories from Genesis 1-3. Also from these stories we learn that human kind is created in God’s image, celebrated by God as good. Central to God’s expressed nature is God’s Word, which creates new things when sent forth into the world. As creatures made in the imago dei, we share this gift – the capacity (and responsibility?) to thoughtfully and imaginatively create through how we express ourselves in the world. This is the true meaning of vocation – the voice with which our lives speak to and into the world. We can only grow toward maturity in Christ, toward sanctification, by living into this truth individually and in community.
We apply the Synchronous Life Model by asking a series of reflective questions in each of the six domains. How we answer these questions, and how our responses relate to and inform each other, becomes the basis for pursuing an integrated self. Remember your past experience, become fully aware of your present state, and envision likely and preferred futures in each domain. Attend to your attitudes, thoughts, words and actions, whether spontaneous or habitual. When you feel strong, confident, content, whole and hopeful, what else is present? When you are weak, at dis-ease, fearful, fretful, depleted or discouraged, what else is going on? Focus initially more on correlation than cause and effect. Don’t judge or prescribe – just be aware. Then sit with this awareness, listen to it, inquire of it what it might teach you. Let your own inner wisdom and the Spirit work together to bring new insight, which can lead to new action and transformation. Whatever else may be true, recognize that you have agency and choice in your life, you can act upon the world and your circumstances to bring about good for yourself and others.
The proposal below was written for and as part of Central's ongoing discernment process that for the last three months has been coached by Eddie Hammett. See cccdt.org/future for more on that process.
A Path For Christian Ministry at 4711 Westside
Honoring and building upon the legacy of Central Christian Church of Dallas
Offered for your consideration by Pastor Ken G. Crawford on June 29, 2020
PREMISE: Central Christian Church of Dallas was formed, repeatedly relocated, and renamed over multiple generations - to the glory of God, for the furthering of the gospel of Jesus Christ, to draw people to him as faithful disciples and to build the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven (See Matthew 28:16-20). This is our heritage and the legacy that we seek to honor. (Brief History)
PROPOSAL: I would submit that we need to strongly privilege work that continues not just blessing people in Jesus’ name but planting and building churches for coming generations. If, as some believe, the current expression of Central Christian Church of Dallas has reached the end of it’s lifespan, then let us direct those same resources to the planting of new communities of faith that will continue to fulfill the commission that gave us birth. We have heard this suggestion over recent years from multiple voices, including those of elders, who believed the above and openly proposed directing our attention to a new church start.
RATIONALE: Though the congregation has not been able to attract new committed participants, nearly everything else on the campus has, including our anchor partner Connecting Point, the Central Dog Park, The Berean Church, The Gathering Church, the 12 Step groups, and our newest campus initiatives, Central Westside Coworking and Wellness. Prior to the Covid-19 Pandemic a diverse group of more than 1000 people were regularly on our campus each month, focused on fellowship, learning, personal growth, creativity, health and serving others. Additionally we had strong hands-on and face-to-face connections with the campus and community of Maple Lawn Elementary. All of this has aligned with our mission statement and missional priorities:
As followers of Jesus Christ,
we partner with our neighbors to experience God’s transforming love.
We do this specifically through prioritizing
Diversity and Inclusion, Creativity and the Arts, and Wholeness and Flourishing.
We have steadily increased the good will of our neighbors toward our campus because of the Christian hospitality we are offering and the community impact work we are doing in Jesus’ name. All of these relationships, and those extending from them, provide abundant opportunities for launching multiple new communities of faith that can extend Central’s legacy well into future generations. These communities will look, sound and feel very different from Central and likely from each other. They will connect with people in ways beyond what Central can do. In the same way that we recognize our children and grandchildren organize, communicate and engage their world very differently, so will their churches. Central Christian Church can gift and pay forward the legacy that was gifted to us to advance that work of New Churches in North Texas and beyond.
POSSIBLE STEPS FORWARD:
Matthew 28: 16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ NRSV from Oremus.org
Brief History: Organized in 1863, under the headship of teacher and preacher Charles Carlton, the congregation originally held services in Mr. Carlton’s log cabin schoolroom in present-day Downtown Dallas.
The meetings were moved a few months later to the records building of the Dallas County Courthouse in downtown Dallas. The congregation met in the courthouse for about a year before deciding that they needed a meeting space of their own, separate from a government building.
In 1867, the church built a small meeting house two blocks from the courthouse in an area that is now called The West End Historic District of Downtown Dallas.
To commemorate where the original church once stood, a Texas Historical marker was installed on a two story red brick building at 703 Ross Ave. on December 4, 1938—a building that once housed the city police station and jail
In 1876, the gift of an organ caused a division among the parishioners. Some members were opposed to instrumental music within the church. The Rev. Kirk Baxter and those members who desired the addition of the musical instrument began temporary meetings in the Main Street Opera House. A new sanctuary was built in 1878 on Commerce Street at the site of the former Statler Hilton Hotel building. The church adopted the name Commerce Street Christian Church.
Nine ministers served the Commerce Street Christian Church between 1878 and 1891.
In 1891, while Mr. J. F. Toof was pastor, the congregation moved to a new and larger building at St. Paul and Patterson streets and the name Central Christian Church was chartered. The church remained at this location for the next 60 years.
In 1951, Central Christian Church sold the St. Paul/Patterson location and purchased land at 4711 Westside Drive, the present day location of the church. Construction started on the Westside location in April 1952, and the new sanctuary was dedicated during a service on Sunday, May 3, 1953. (from Wikipedia, written for 150th Anniv.)
Sermon Prep Reflections for May 3, 2020 - John 21, 1-14
You don’t have to go looking for God. God is everywhere you are. Even when you’re not looking, or maybe especially then, God shows up.
When the world changes rapidly, when the rug gets ripped out from under you, you may not know where to turn or what to do. Even if the change is a good one, it can be disorienting and strange and set us off our game.
We often revert back to our old, comfortable habits of place and practice when the world presents us with new information and opportunities that overwhelm us. That’s not necessarily a good or bad thing. It’s just a thing. All depends on what those behaviors and spaces are and how healthy and helpful they are for us going forward. Just because it used to work for us in the past does not mean it will work for us in the future.
In John’s gospel, chapter 21, we again encounter several of the Apostles – the inner circle of Jesus’ friends and followers. These are his most trusted and loyal allies, the ones he called and mentored for months on end. They saw him teach and minister and heal. They were blessed and renewed by his grace. They shared his story as their own. They watched him be arrested, crucified, and buried. Then three days later they encountered him risen from the dead, just as he promised. The world would never be the same.
To be clear, their worlds had already been turned upside down by meeting and choosing to follow Jesus. They’d chosen the Gospel over their old lives, which if necessary meant choosing Jesus over family, friends, work, and even the ways they’d been taught to believe and practice their faith. Now everything had changed again. It just felt like too much.
I’m struck by the way John tells the story of these weeks following the Resurrection. I would have expected Jesus to spend every waking hour with his core followers, preparing them for his return to the Father and the sending of the Holy Spirit and the Birth of the Church. There should have been strategic planning meetings, power point presentations, webinars and zoom meetings and conferences and workbooks with Certifications and Continuing Education Credits in Church Development and Missions. God was about the birth the church in, among and through them. All they seem to get is a brief weekly check in. “Hey. How are yall? Still doing ok? Alrighty then. Good. See you soon.” And he’s gone again.
It truly is a New World for the disciples. And they are dependent on their Old Routines to get them through. Easter night Jesus appears to them. Then, a week later, the same stunt showing up in a locked room. Then, John tells us, “…After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples… and it happened this way…” So according to John’s gospel, this story represents their third encounter with the resurrected LORD. Not surprisingly, they’re a bit at a loss for what to do in the between times. How should they be planning for what is next? What are they supposed to DO? They’ve got no clue. So they do what is familiar, comfortable, useful. They go fishing.
Remember, at least some of these guys are professional fishermen. They return to the Sea of Galilee (here called the Sea of Tiberias), some 75 miles north of Jerusalem. When they walked back home to the north country of Capernaum and surrounding communities we don’t know. But here they are back at the familiar port town, back at their boats and among their friends, their ropes and sails and nets. Here they know what to do without thinking. The muscle memory is so deep that they can function on autopilot.
That’s what often happens to me when I’m feeling overwhelmed. If I can function at all, it’s on autopilot. I do what I know so well that my brain can check out and I can just go. My body can be absorbed in the tasks of cooking and cleaning or organizing or playing music or walking or writing. These things I know. They are comfortable and familiar and in some way useful or productive. Widows will often come home from the hospital after losing their life partners and set to work in the kitchen feeding everyone in sight, because that is something their body can do without their brain fully engaged.
Notice several weeks have passed. It’s likely, since this story is framed this way, that the disciples sat around eating and drinking and staring at one another day after day for a fortnight. They couldn’t do much of anything. Nothing made sense anymore. They didn’t know their place in the world. The new reality had been described to them. They had the information, the facts, but still they were frozen. Finally, maybe because of the miles of walking north day after day, they get unstuck enough to at least do this. Peter is able to frame an idea, and everyone else simply ascents to it. “Yep, let’s go fishing…”
What do you do when you feel overwhelmed? Once you are able to do something of course. What are the people, places and practices that bring you that familiarity in which you find comfort? After a loss people often reach back into their past to reconnect with old relationships, even old flames. I think one reason is that people are seeking solid footing, and we imagine that the past might hold it. This rarely proves true, but there’s no harm in spending some time there.
It’s good and right to rely on the familiar in our time of uncertainty. Many people I know have reconnected with old friends, renewed old hobbies, returned to favorite authors. These are source of comfort that offer a mooring in these unsettled waters.
The story shows us that Jesus meets us there, but does not leave us there. He invites us to commune with him. He acknowledges and responds to our concrete human needs in the moment. And then he calls us toward the future. Once we’ve found rest and solace, once we’ve taken our fill and be satiated, Jesus shakes us from our stupor and calls us away from out past that can be an anchor dragging us down to the depths. He calls us forward into new life in Him. He refuses to let us get distracted by the paths that others are walking. “Keep your eyes on your own path. Mind your own business. Don’t worry about how I’m calling or leading someone else. Walk the road that I’ve put before you, and let that be enough.”
This is both a comfort and a challenge. It is comforting to know that we can return for a time to what soothes us. It is a comfort to know that Jesus meets us there. It is a comfort to know that he sees and addresses our needs in times like this. And it is a challenge because eventually he will call us to wake up to the new realities and begin to live the hope and promise of a bright tomorrow that is different and blessed.
So for now, take comfort. But be ready. It is a New World, and those Old Routines that may comfort us now will not serve us well for long.
Jesus shows up in unexpected places. This is one of the messages of the post resurrection stories in the gospels. He wasn't where they thought he was, i.e. the tomb. He showed up where they didn't expect - a locked room (twice), along a road trip (to Emmaus), at the beach while they were fishing (cause they didn't know what else to do in that post-crucifixion time), etc.
Tim and I are working to plan worship that is both comforting - traditional hymn favorites - and surprising - new places and spaces. You may have heard or seen recently "Jesus has left the building" in response to remote worship services and churches no longer gathering in our buildings. Truth is, we are discovering that he's always been more "out there" than "in here". Jesus is in all the places we don't think to look.
We invite you to imagine and suggest places where we might encounter Jesus. We will work to bring elements of our worship service that include those places.
At the same time, we are wanting to bring some sense of the comfortable and familiar- thus we are asking folks to share their favorite hymns and worship songs. We've done this in the past and thus have a list from which to work, AND we are asking again so this is definitely something you can ask everyone you talk with in the next few weeks: "Hey, what hymns or songs are bringing your comfort and hope during this time? What words float through your mind and what tunes you catch yourself humming or singing?" Then send those responses on to us, please.
And we are wanting to bring the scriptures (and other spiritual wisdom) that may be most familiar and comforting during this time: cf Psalm 23, John 3:16, Psalm 150, Romans 8, etc... Let's gather and share also what scriptures comfort and inspire us in this time.
The Gospel is both familiar and foreign, stabilizing and surprising. We know it, and yet it is always new, if we are really paying attention. Like a true love of friendship in life - we know them so well, and yet we are also always learning and discovering new and delightful things that challenge and inspire us (and perhaps bewilder us!).
My prayer is that we are each open to discovering Jesus in a new way. Resurrection may not mean what we thought. Or put another way, We may learn that Resurrection means far more than we imagined or believed. The people around us are there in part to help us learn things about God we cannot learn without them. Even the ones who don't believe in God in the same way that we do - for they are made in God's image and are God's beloved. "For God so loved the world..."
God be praised by our words and in our living in this most extraordinary time.
Please let me know how I can be serving and supporting you and yours.
Dear Church Family,
This is a strange and difficult time for all of us for various reasons, and I regret not being more available to you during these weeks. My family and I thank you for your prayers and understanding of the need for some time away to grieve the death of my Dad, Jim Crawford. I look forward to returning to active service in the congregation and community soon. Until then, please know that you are in my prayers as well.
I'm grateful for the way Tim Caffee and others have led our music and worship. Thanks to Rev. Dr. Irie Session for preaching last week, and to Rev. Shirley Johannsen for preaching our Easter Service – see more at CCCDT.org/remote. You'll want to join together Thursday evening for a joint Maundy Thursday service cohosted with East Dallas Christian Church and Northway Christian Church AND the Womanist Good Friday Seven Sayings. Both will be viewable at 7pm on Facebook.com/CentralChristian.Dallas.
Your elders and staff are offering strong leadership during this time and are available to support you. Please do not hesitate to reach out to them directly, email the church office at Central.Christian.Dallas@gmail.com, or call the pastoral care line: 469- four eight zero -9077.
As we journey through this Holy Week and into the Easter season, may we be reminded that the disciples were likewise sorrowful, disoriented, confused and even frightened by the events of that week. Jesus could not wipe away their concerns or remove them from the path they would walk. Jesus did serve them, feed them, teach them, pray with and for them, and offer them hope. Not until the resurrection came did they understand the message or the events of their lives. The resurrection did come, for them and for us. We are invited to make the journey again with Jesus - to the cross, through the death, and into the tomb. There is no resurrection without death. We cannot be born anew, personally, as a church, or as a human family, unless we die to our old ways and allow the Holy Spirit to bring new life.
I look forward to the day when we will gather together again to declare: "Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!" Until then, may we have the courage and faith to stay on the path, enter the Upper Room, pray in the Garden, and stand at the foot of the Cross.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Ken Crawford
The Church and The Community: Why and How We Reconnect
OR: What's next for Legacy Churches?
I believe that congregations can be a force for good in the world - can be instruments of peace and channels of God's grace to heal and transform lives, homes and communities. If this is to happen, we need to overcome several obstacles:
1) We are no longer connected to our communities, much less at their center. While I don't believe we need to reclaim the social or moral center, I do believe we need to engage deeply and be a place of gathering, seeking and finding. How do we do that?
Several generations ago Christian churches (and congregations of other faith groups) were at the center of American life in most communities. This has been changing for decades. Unfortunately, a large subset of these congregations were asleep as it was happening, and when we were told, we chose to either ignore the new reality or only pay lip service to the changes happening around and within our campuses.
2) Our "business model" was built on several social realities that no longer hold.
a) Congregations were staffed by scores of volunteers from 2 parent homes where only one adult worked, so there were many (typically wives) available to do much of the work around the church and out in the community.
b) People's relationship to their time was different. There were fewer alternatives for what to do on Sunday mornings.
c) People's relationship to their finances was different. There were fewer claims on people's money, and the "living wage" went further. And fewer people were working in the gig economy where they had shifts on Sundays. It now takes 7-10 Millennial and Gen Z givers to replace one Silent Generation or Boomer.
d) People's relationship to "Truth" has changed. In the post-modern world, assumptions of absolute truth are not a given.
e) People's relationship to institutions has changed. Younger generations do not give to support institutions out of loyalty, and they don't become life-long members of anything. They will subscribe, but anything they join is understood to be temporary and non-binding, like a gym membership.
f) The cost of doing business has gone up for churches, as it has for households, so there are greater needs in the church budget at the same time members have less to give.
g) In many cases, what I call legacy congregations have buildings that are far too large for their needs. One option is to "right size" the facility to match the congregation. Another is to reimagine how the facility becomes a blessing to new groups of people in the community who are also seeking life, wholeness, peace and hope.
All of this combines to bring us to our current condition, and to a set of strategies for the way forward.
1) Congregations need to recognize that, though we are no longer the center of our communities, we can still have a meaningful role to play, if we will actively engage people where they are. This means spending more time out of the building and off of the campus, understanding people's needs, and their dreams. ABCD - Asset Based Community Development is the current favored approach, which starts with the assumption that individuals and neighborhoods have strengths, capacities, and dreams. They don't need people to fix or rescue them. They do benefit from (and welcome) humble engagement that says, "I'm here to stand with you."
One of my mentors, Ken Janke, believes that "the dreams in people's hearts are the seeds of the kingdom of God," so he leads with this invitation: "Tell me the dreams you have for yourself, your family, your community." Once people get over the shock, and begin to share, his response is always the same, "I'd like to walk with you toward that."
As we do this work, we will encounter people who are already doing or dreaming amazing things that could find a new home on our campus or in our buildings. These may be things we've never considered doing before.
Congregations need to recognize that the church of the 19th and 20th century which most of us knew was the anomaly. What we are experiencing now is far more like what has been through most of Christian history, and certainly what was true in the first few centuries. We have a wonderful opportunity, if we can work through our grief and fear, to go forward into an ancient way of just being present in people's lives.
2) Congregations need to recognize that many people are alienated from the church because we have not treated others well. We have silenced voices. We have told people they were not loveable by God. We have neglected to show love and have actively abused the vulnerable. We have stood on the wrong side of a range of justice issues. And so a wide swath of the population in the US and Europe has simply said, "Who needs it?" They've not always turned their back on Jesus, or on God, if they'd ever understood themselves to have those connections. They are finding other ways to respond to their spiritual longings. If we want to walk with them on a faith journey, then we need to respect where they are today - not just tolerate but truly respect, understand and even appreciate it.
3) Congregations need to rethink how they relate to money and how they think about donors. We used to believe that the only people who would / could / should give to our ministry were those sitting in the Worship Services and Bible Studies. That may have been true, but no longer.
a) The expenses have outstripped people's ability to give to support the work.
b) Younger givers will not generally give just to support the organization - they give to people and projects that impact the world in ways that move and motivate them.
c) If the work is truly life-giving to people in the community, then others will also want to support it
d) Fewer people are choosing to participate traditionally in organized faith communities - AND, those who aren't will still be looking for ways that their resources can do good.
SO - churches need to adopt non-profit fundraising models that complement their traditional stewardship efforts. We need to learn from foundations, community organizations, and education institutions how they tell their stories, connect with donors, and invite people to participate. Fundraising is not about getting the donor to help the organization - it's about the institution helping donors make a difference with their lives.
Our Journey at Central
Like many congregations, Central has seen a steady decline in membership and income over decades - related to many of the things previously stated. Fortunately we have some reserve funds which give us the opportunity to innovate and experiment with new forms of ministry. Unfortunately, there is disagreement over whether, how and when to spend that money. Some want to spend it now toward bold strategies that can create dramatic impact. Others prefer to save it for a rainy day, and trickle it out so we can delay the eventual death of the organization for as long as possible. I try to tell them, "Noah called. He's building a boat!"
Also like many legacy congregations, we have very large buildings that offer far more room than we could possibly need or use. So we are left asking ourselves, "Do we sell, take that money, and then do something else? Do we sell and give that money to others? Or do we find new, innovative and unexpected ways to use our facilities to bless people and make the world better? God has given us these buildings. What does God want us to do with them? What if we were a small organization of 50 people and we were trying to decide how to impact our community. Along comes a generous benefactor who says, "I'll give you 34,000 square feet of building on four acres and $2 Million dollars to do something amazing!" What would we say? "No thanks, that sounds too hard"?
That's the situation we find ourselves in. Wouldn't you go with all the energy you could muster, all the faith and hope within and around you, and try to do something amazing? Wouldn't you tell that story as broadly as possible so that you could get your neighbors to join you in that adventure? I would.
Rev. Dr. Ken G. Crawford, DMin, MDiv, CSD, BCC