Not long ago in a town I know well a church was experiencing tremendous growth. People were coming to faith, the sense of God’s presence in their gathered meetings was palpable, but they had a problem. They had outgrown the premises they owned and didn’t know whether to church plant or go to multiple Sunday meetings. Meanwhile, nearby, another fellowship with a similar theology was at death’s door. A typical Sunday service attracted less than 30 into their building designed to accommodate ten times that number. The sense of neglect and decay was painful. Call me simplistic and naïve, but looking from the outside in the answer seemed obvious, but not it seemed to the two churches concerned.
Does that story ring bells with you? Pick a typical town in the UK and you’ll probably find one or two churches are thriving and growing whilst other congregations are struggling and dying. A growing church has people and life, but may lack sufficient finances and building space to make the most of the wind in its sails. Meanwhile the small and dying church doesn’t have many people or much life, but may be sitting on hundreds of thousands in the bank and, or own land and buildings that could be sold or redeveloped thus realising even larger amounts. Don’t tell me that all the churches in your town are poor, its just that all too often the resources are stuck in structures from the past and not realised into where the Spirit of God is active now, in 2006!
Grace, sensitivity and generosity of spirit is needed – but is it too much to expect churches to share and pool resources for the good of the kingdom of God and the community which they claim to serve? Whether you call it a merger, a takeover, a partnership, an alliance or something else, it doesn’t matter much in my view, what matters is that there are often sufficient kingdom resources in a town, they just need to be redistributed. This is happening in some wonderful, truly beautiful instances, but we need more, much more, to unlock the resource jam.
Occasionally the wording of historical trust documents prevents a small congregation being truly open-hearted. But sadly it may be because the small church chooses to live in unreality – believing that if they can just hold out for another year maybe they will attract new families and things will turn around. So the congregation get older, praying for a miracle, while ignoring the growth taking place in the church down the street. Meanwhile the growing church can’t fit everyone in on a Sunday morning. This church may divert its attention away from mission into fund raising, its members are urged to give generously, but little or dialogue takes place with the struggling fellowship in its back yard.
Sadly pride, ego and personality clashes prevent unity. In other situations it may be long standing disputes or deeply held theological differences.
Divide and conquer has been a successful military strategy for thousands of years, so there is no reason to suspect that demonic forces are not working against loving and generous partnerships between local churches. I hope Andy Peck’s article (Finishing Well, page 18) on the best way to close down a church results in a greater reality and redistribution of God’s resources. Real life, real faith in the real world is what this magazine is all about. That calls for hard decisions, generosity of spirit and risk taking.