Are the days of the institutional church numbered?

Posted: December 11, 2012 by efenster in Ideas

TitanicAre the days of the institutional church numbered?  This is a question that I’m keenly interested in because I’ve given much of my life serving the institutional church–eleven years at an inner-city church in Fort Wayne and now 17 years for the conference.  That inner city church is likely living out its final years.  Are our conference’s years numbered as well?

I readily admit that I tend to be an optimist; that’s one reason why I’ve been doing this so long.  I keep coming back to scriptures of dry bones coming back to life, of an apostle who says that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength, and Christ who says that he will build his church and those who have faith in him will do even greater things.  How can I not be an optimist?

Yet, the numbers strongly suggest that we hit an iceberg years ago and that our ship is seriously listing.  Not just our ship either; the whole flotilla–other denominations and independent churches alike–is sinking.  Sure there are some bright spots here and there, but studies suggest that 80% of churches in America are standing still or in trouble.

One major reason is that our churches and conference are primarily focused on themselves.  We’ve lost sight of our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Or we’ve redefined our mission in a way that makes us feel okay.  We say we need to focus on strengthening the level of discipleship in our own members before we consider reaching those outside our walls.  We say we’ll do fundraisers and give the money to those groups who will take care of transforming the world for us.  Perhaps we’ve got to reclaim our mission, get directly involved, and accept Jesus’ admonition that new wine must be put in new wine skins, that doing “church” the same way just isn’t going to cut it.

So in light of all of this, what are we at the Indiana Conference  Church Development team doing?  Rather than standing on the deck playing “Nearer My God to Thee,” we have all hands on deck–seven of us on the Church Development staff, plus over two dozen others who have been trained as facilitators, mentors, coaches, and consultants–and we’re helping churches transform through the Fruitful Congregation Journey revitalization process, which helps churches fulfill the mission more effectively.   So far, nearly 170 churches are in the three-step process and more are being invited to join them.*  We, on the Church Development team, truly believe that once enough of our churches  get through the process, we will experience a tipping point and the ship, our conference,  will begin to right itself and once again move forward.  Is it easy?  No, ask any of the churches and they’ll tell you it’s hard work.  But is it worth it?  Absolutely!  So, it’s going to take all of us working together.  How about you and your church?  Will you join us?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

*Let your District Superintendent know if your church is interested.

  1. Debbie says:

    Ed, how true. We were at the Arena Dinner Theatre last night and one of the couples at the table with us shared that their church had split twice and now they were a part of a house church with four couples. They were happy that all money they donated went to helping others and none had to go for “overhead” expenses.

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