Cid Latty asks whether there's an alternative to closing churches.
There has been a lot of research and debate on the decline in church attendance in the UK, with dire predictions and gloomy statistics painting a picture of a Church that will become extinct in a relatively short period of time.
We see and hear of small churches across the UK whose congregations have shrunk and a decision has been taken to either close or amalgamate them with other churches. Are these the only options? Do these churches have to be closed?
Instead I believe that many can be turned around, that we have an opportunity to see both churches and communities revitalised as we explore this more challenging but ultimately more rewarding option. How can this be done?
By imagining – thinking big, having a vision, pioneering
It is time to dream again. Reversing years of decline is not for every church; in Genesis 26.17-22 we see Isaac's servants re-digging the wells that had originally been dug by his father, Abraham. The servants re-dug the wells until they found one with fresh water flowing and eventually settled where God had made room for them, to prosper. It's about rediscovering what is already there, asking 'What vision do we have for what we could be?' and 'What does it take for us to become missional and embrace people around us in a fresh way?'
By investing – planning, motivating, praying
Doing the right thing at the right time. In Habakkuk 2, God tells Habakkuk to write the message down, to make it clear and to wait patiently because it will be fulfilled - even if it isn't straight away, it will be in time. We should take the vision and say, 'This is what I can see could happen here, this is what we could become and this is how I think we will get there'. Clear presentation of a vision and engendering ownership of the vision and ways it can be achieved give people a reason to come together and ways in which they can do it. People want to join in with something that carries the sense of purpose that this kind of activity brings.
By interfacing – joining with others
Finding commonality in the community. Community projects, such as starting a food bank, provide a great opportunity to link up with other churches and organisations in order to make things happen. It is best to find one thing and to do it well, avoiding the mistake that small churches often make which is to try and do many different things (as if it is a big church) and end up doing nothing well at all.
These principles of imagining, investing and interfacing have already begun to help a number of small churches in the UK to gain a new impetus through the Living Well project.
Some churches may choose to close or have it forced upon them. I hope that others will be encouraged to embrace a future in which the Church is very much alive.