We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Fatigue & Decline ("Decline & Renewal" II)

We are exploring a series of editorials on the theme of church decline and renewal that were posted earlier this year in Jason Locke's Blog, which comes out of the Churches of Christ tradition.  The series raises important questions from perspectives outside of the mainline, ones that can help mainline churches better wrestle with the shared issues of decline and renewal.

The second posting in this series is by the Rev. Steve Martin, a Churches of Christ pastor in southern California, and is entitled, "The View from Steve Martin."  In describing the situation the church he serves faces in terms of decline and renewal, the word that sums things up best is fatigue.  The church is located in an area of high mobility, which means a high turnover in membership.  Part of its fatigue is trying to bring in more new members each year than those who are lost to attrition, and another part of the fatigue is the strain on personal relationships the turnover puts on long term members.  The result has been a slow but steady decline over the last decade-plus.

Martin points to one type of church fatigue, but the problem is more multi-faceted and broader than he describes it in his situation.  Churches burn out church members as well as pastors.  The concept of "Sabbath rest" is all well and good, but more often than not church is just another thing to be busy with.  Worship should esp. be a time for spiritual rest, reflection, and renewal, but too often it is none of these things.

The key to addressing church fatigue is finding ways to transform relationships within the church so that members take away renewed energy from their time at church with church people rather than feeling still further drained by church and church people.  In the church I serve, a suddenly active and significant small group movement is helping an important part of the church experience renewed energy from church.  In another congregation, it might be new directions in worship or study groups or an alive youth ministry or an inspiring mission trip.  In any event, one place where renewal begins is with renewed relationships within the church.  It is to such renewal that the Spirit calls us and through such renewal that it moves.  Amen.