What my dad taught me about growing a church
I was born the year my dad, Travis Irwin, began…
Anyone following social research in the United States has seen the bleak forecast for religion: declining attendance and diminishing adherents.
Anyone following the recent work of Stan Granberg knows Churches of Christ are not immune from these alarming developments. Though congregational exceptions to these trends undoubtedly exist, they are outliers.
Conservative and liberal. Urban and rural. The average membership of congregations is aging and declining. Young people are leaving. Churches are closing.
Discouragement and resignation to our seeming fate seems inevitable. But there is another option.
Granberg, a longtime professor and founding director of the Kairos Church Planting Support ministry, offers an alternative. In “Empty Church: Why People Don’t Come and What To Do About It,” he gives readers useful tools for evaluating their congregation’s situation, practical steps to effectively respond and even hope when congregations must close.
“Empty Church” begins with the belief that churches, like people, have life cycles lasting 70 to 100 years. This cycle unfolds similarly to our own life cycle: growth, vigor, reproduction, effectiveness, stability, maturity and reduced capacity.
The good news for churches is that they have the ability to reverse the cycle.
With the heart of a missionary and church planter, Granberg explains cultural and historical shifts leading to our present circumstances. He then shows how these shifts impact Churches of Christ specifically, with an understanding of our history and dynamics.
Having explained how we got here, Granberg then turns his attention to the life cycle of churches, providing helpful metrics for understanding where our own congregations are in their own lifecycle. The typical lifecycle works its way from accelerating to booming before decelerating and, ultimately, tanking.
Rather than accept deceleration, Granberg suggests revision and renewal. He offers the possibility of redeveloping and repurposing. Doing so requires proper leadership, evangelistic mission, service and discipleship, each of which receive their own chapters filled with practical insights.
“Empty Church” applies to churches of all sizes but shows particular concern for churches over 50 years old with fewer than 50 members, with most attendees over the age of 50. These churches are considered most at risk to closing.
Despite our best efforts, some congregations may need to close. Once again, Granberg offers important advice — primarily through his work with the Heritage 21 Foundation. Granberg is vice chairman of the organization, which seeks to help Churches of Christ navigate difficult choices as they consider renewal or redistribution of their assets to further Kingdom growth.
The book largely avoids traditional hot-button and often contentious issues that divide churches into “liberal” or “conservative” camps. Instead, Granberg provides workable insights and solutions across the spectrum. Although some of his suggestions may appear superficial at times (shifting from podium to stage, improving church signage and creating marketing plans), each reflects an important mindset and footing that moves past the status quo and attempts to connect to people and communities in practical ways.
The time has come for the church to move beyond our “sky-is-falling” mindset and get to work. “Empty Church” is a welcome resource to help get us moving.
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