Vacation offers the opportunity to ponder. I’m so grateful for the chance to read on planes and share ideas with some people in Nashville this week.
Maybe that doesn’t sound like vacation to you, but stay with me. Vacation = Time to Think. So many are anxious and deeply concerned about the cultural asteroid that’s hitting Christendom and other institutions these days, but I am struck by something different.
In 2007, the church I was serving started a new community. This new congregation was not meant to be a feeder into the traditional worshiping community. It was not meant to “attract members” or be a new Presbyterian Presence. It was simply a community of broken people interested in grappling with the issues of faith and life. We were exceptionally good at Grappling.
The church officially ended/closed/stop meeting on Sunday nights in about 2012 or 2013. But what’s interesting is that the community still exists and the connections remain deep. The Holy Grounds community now lives in Beirut and Minneapolis, Davis and Pittsburgh, DC and Chiang Rai, Madison and Seattle, Dayton and Ann Arbor. But we are still community. We meet in airports and on social media. We attend each others’ weddings and visit while traveling cross-country. We still pray for and with each other.
How did that happen with a “church” that existed for less than six years?
- It wasn’t about hard boundaries and conquest to use Alpesh Bhatt‘s terminology (aka “targeting new members.”) It was about relationships.
- It wasn’t about hierarchy. It was about decentralized decision-making and collaboration.
- It wasn’t about transactions. It was about conversations.
- It wasn’t about numbers. It was about intangibles.
As many of us work with congregations in crises, it’s clear that some of those congregations will “go down with the ship.” They will refuse to make the hard changes. Their churches will close. And they will blame their denominations or people like me who work for the middle governing bodies of denominations.
But it will be okay. Because what lasts after “the church has closed” are the relationships, the fruits of grappling, the grace in the face of imperfection, the memories of a community that loved the broken and the whole alike.
This is a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. It lasts beyond institutional existence. As 50, 75, 100, 200 year old congregations close in the months and years to come, my hope is that some semblance of their grappling together about the meaning of life and their God-given purpose will live on and be resurrected in something new and different.
Image source. Bandaids for all kinds of hurt people in thanksgiving for BR & AD.