Recent news reports say that the current financial recession is ending. Well, at least some reports say that. Other reports say that we are in a multi-year slump. I don't know about you but in my part of the country real estate is at an all year low and unemployment numbers keep rising. I call it stagnation rather than recession. Our failing economy effects the Church too. Giving is down. People are worried about their financial futures. Church building is also down too, banks are fearful to lend money, especially to a local parish which may not have enough funds to make their monthly mortgage payments.
What to do?
Rather than sit on our hands and worry ourselves to death I was wondering if there is another way to "be Church" as in re-invent what our conception of Church really is.
Most certainly the newer parishes in the 21st century must learn to live within their means. Large, multi-million building projects seem way out of proportion nowadays. Smaller, more intimate communities seem not only more effective as far as ministry and communication are concerned, but also they reflect peoples most dire need: connection. Large congregations with hundreds of families are more like small (and sometimes mid-size) corporations. Newcomers can easily be lost within a sea of parishioners. How can the pastor know all of his flock if he or she has 300, 400, or 500 families?
I was recently reading an excellent post on Duke Divinity School Faith and Leadership blog about newer "house Churches" where the pastor works a full time or three-quarter time job and ministers to a small community of less than fifty people. They meet on Sunday morning but also mid-week as well. Not only do they meet for worship, but also for prayer, fellowship, and study. Smaller, leaner, and without large financial obligations, these "house Churches" create Christian community without having to worry about salary and benefits for staff, building upkeep, cleaning, lawn maintenance, rising utility costs such as heating and cooling, and large mortgage payments; costs which cannot be sustained in the long run. A colleague of mine who runs a large inner city parish with a large physical plant told me that his building is an albatross; the heating and cooling costs alone are enormous.
If you ask me I think that these new created house Churches, focusing on the basics of the Christian gospel message, might help us out of our current mess in which we find ourselves. Of course house Churches are not a panacea for all of our problems, but at least it is a way to think outside the box and help us be more creative in the way that we engage in ministry in the 21st century.
What do you think?
Do you belong to one of these smaller parish communities? Do they work? What are the drawbacks?
Thanks for sharing!