Struggle to save a church inspires an innovative partnership
LA MESA, Calif. — It may take a miracle. That’s…
LA MESA, Calif. — When The Christian Chronicle staff met in March to talk about the “Where have all the churches gone?” project, I told my long-suffering editor I didn’t want to just write about dying churches for seven months.
“That will just depress everyone, especially me,” I remember saying.
While I wanted to look deeply at churches that couldn’t hang on, I also wanted to visit places where rejuvenation and hope can live. This month’s story about the La Mesa Church of Christ in the San Diego area and the ambitions it shares with several entities I’ve come to call “helping organizations” is just such a story.
Within a fellowship as proud of its autonomy as the Churches of Christ, collaboration is too often a rare commodity.
But the success of the plan to plant or rejuvenate 10 churches in 10 years in the San Diego area depends on God’s blessing and the collaboration of several such organizations.
In the few months since this project began, I’ve come across several helping organizations and provide snapshots below. Some are well established. Others are fledgling. Some are national in scope. One is hyper-focused on Colorado. But all of them provide resources for congregations that are considering their strengths, weaknesses and future — if they have one.
This is not an exhaustive list, and these organizations have different strategies, strengths and resources. Several of them collaborate with each other. Some are very independent. Some, like HomeMission, work primarily with more conservative congregations. Others assiduously refuse to even ask or comment about such terms as conservative, liberal, progressive or mainline.
In conversations with the leaders of these organizations, one common thread emerged: Churches that are inwardly focused will not defeat the typical 60-year life cycle of a church. To survive and thrive, they must look outward. They must care about taking Jesus to the folks outside the walls of their near empty buildings.
May their tribe increase.
Mike Vaughn, executive director and board president.
501(c)(3) registration in Cookeville, Tenn.
Be1Make1 works primarily with churches in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia, but they are expanding nationally with 15 full or part-time staff.
“We provide strategic planning development for individuals and churches to live a life on mission. We go in and walk with a leadership team and in 90 days they can go from wherever they are to a plan they can implement – We can make them an effective organization and turn them to habits of the heart so it becomes an organism instead of just an organization.”
Mike O’Neal, chairman.
Scott Lambert, president.
Heritage 21 Foundation works nationally, with a particular emphasis in western U.S. and California. They are currently engaged with about 40 congregations at various levels through two part-time staff members and additional volunteers.
“We work pretty hard to help churches really assess what their future is because almost everyone says ‘could we have a future?’ After assessment we will work to help them grow, but if after assessment they’re ready to transition we begin legal/real estate work, then begin the closing well part. We want them to celebrate, think about how they want their money spent and try to develop a mechanism to help a lot of it get back into the kingdom.”
John Orr, director, under oversight of West Freeway Church of Christ in Fort Worth, Texas.
The majority of churches served by HomeMission are in Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and the Ohio Valley. The organization averages about one request per week from churches, of which about 30 percent are at the point of closing.
Workshops conducted by HomeMission evangelists over a period of five years cover goal setting, visitation, circles of influence, giving, singing, evangelism and Bible study.
“Everything about HomeMission is evangelism. We know that a church doesn’t change overnight, so we have tools we give them to help them evangelize and we hope within five years that 30 percent can hold Bible studies – that’s our goal.”
Grady King and Greg Anderson, co-leaders.
Run by three full-time staff members, 25 partners and associates.
The organization has worked with 300 churches in five years in 18 states nationwide.
“Hope Network is a team of passionate church leaders working for the Churches of Christ to stay on mission and to forward that mission. That work is done through mentoring, through interim ministry work and established through revitalization of churches.”
“Our preference is to walk alongside a leadership team for a season. It takes time to work through things. In interim ministry we try to provide consistent pulpit presence and consistency of consulting by coaching a search team. If it’s planning or conflict management then we are looking at a series of engagements, typically three to five face-to-face engagements with some homework in between.”
Ron Clark, executive director.
Seven full- or part-time staff.
Kairos Church Planting averages about one request per month from churches considering closing or renewal. There are currently nine church plants with Kairos and four future ones in process. They primarily focus on the East and West Coasts.
“Our goal is to plant new churches in new places for new people. If we’re going to revive a church typically we’re trying to work with the core leadership group, which could be the elders and minister or a leadership team the congregation has put forward. We take them through our strategy lab – whether a reboot, plant or replant – they’re going to find out what is their mission, what is their focus and what is their plan to move forward.”
Related: A final song, a familiar end
Partners in Missions for Colorado
Bill Young, coordinator.
Overseen by Castle Rock Church of Christ.
Three volunteers in leadership and 17 on-call preachers provide support to 10 congregations in Colorado.
“We have adopted about 10 smaller churches in southeastern and southwestern Colorado as targets for our encouragement, possibility of several ministries we can help with like VBS, special Bible teachers, interim ministers, Sunday replacement ministers to the smaller churches that would otherwise not have access to resources. We conducted a workshop for smaller churches in December and had a good turnout. We’ve also enlisted the help of Hope Network that is providing an evaluator to work with one of the small, struggling churches we help encourage.”
Carson Reed, executive director.
The Siburt Institute is run by seven full-time or part-time staff, six faculty and four consulting partners. They fields calls from about 150 churches — 20 in crisis — annually from across the country.
“Sometimes we just offer informal, pro bono consultation, share resources, readings, talk about some possibilities and help them network with other organizations. In a more formal consultancy we might walk along with a church for a year or more.
“In more formal engagements this typically means being on site and doing interviews one-on-one with elders, staff, congregants, doing focus groups, listening for stories looking for signs of life and hope. There’s no specific curriculum – the curriculum is helping them face their reality and asking ‘Can these bones live?’ If there is no life there, then how do we die well? If there is life, how do we begin to prophesy to the bones?”
CHERYL MANN BACON is a Christian Chronicle correspondent who served for 20 years as chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Abilene Christian University. Contact [email protected].
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