As we hit the practical issues I want to make it very clear that motivation is the survival of the American church but I do think it needs to change in light of the new transparent world we find ourselves in. I don’t know if this is going to require the church in America to get to a real low point and then rebound or if it can be done now. The problem is that much of church leadership is also disenchanted so one would have to question the motivation level of their commitment to change. There is also the fact that the people are getting grayer in the pews. Youth and the life that goes with it are getting fewer and fewer in the church. I lean toward the getting to the bottom before coming back up. I know call me Jeremiah.
That said there are some pressing issues in the face of the church right now involving practical issues.
1) Limited number of clergy – traditionally when a denomination does not have enough clergy they resort to one of three things 1) circuit riding – one pastor many churches. This of course limits the amount of personal care a pastor can give each church member. 2) Consolidation – a smaller church is absorbed by a larger or two churches of the same size combine. This can be helpful only if the distances involved are short. You also always lose a few people when you do this. 3) Closing – this option is the death of the church and what we are trying to avoid.
2. Greying Membership – the real issue is not the grey members of a church who are getting older but the younger members who are so few and far between that once the grey members are gone will find themselves very much a small group inside a big building that others built. There is no way they will be able to maintain the traditional brink and mortar church on the corner. If there is one thing that may be created here is a lot of empty church buildings.
3. Ministry Stoppage – One of the more alarming things is that happening is less and less ministry is able to be done. Like it or not churches are able to do less and less.
4. Professional Clergy Issues – I have never made a lot of money in the ministry. Of the three salaries I have made in three different churches my current one is the lowest which is why I still consider it a part-time job. I have never had good benefits or been able to get anything put away for retirement. There has simply never been enough cash to do so. I am also not alone. This problem is getting worse and worse. The mainline denominations do a better job of doing this but then again they are consolidating churches and circuit ridding to maintain full-time ministers. How long can that last? The two most expensive things in church are the minister and the building. One or both has to give as congregations get smaller.
Solutions have been proposed but some are only temporary or radical but then again radical is what we might need for the future. Some of the more radical that have been proposed have been to eliminate professional clergy for a team ministry of lay leaders, eliminate church buildings and go with a house church system. There are many others but these are the two big ones. Both have their disadvantages and advantages.
1) Eliminate professional clergy – the advantages to this are actually pretty significant. Firstly it gets rid of the most expensive things in a budget. Secondly, it gets people to actually do more ministry as every one n the group of lay ministers is now active. The responsibilities are spread out so the burden is really no that bad. The problems are however pronounced – There is no expert in ministry so everyone is doing what they think is best but it may actually not be good. An example might be counseling, biblical and theological knowledge (when dealing with the new transparency this could be key as there are no good answers to critics) and ministry. Who does weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc. The other problem is that most people like the system of having a professional clergy to handle the church stuff full-time. Most people like the idea of one person in charge of their church and the final problem is what to do with all those pastors that are now out of a job. How do you transition them to new careers?
2) House Church Model – This is going back to the early church. Many folks look at this as the right thing to get the church back to the good old days. I want to let you know the good old days were not that good. In large part the church went to a more structured model and started having their own buildings so they would not be at the whims of the individual house owners and one thing that really plagued the early church was the inability to raise real money to met humanitarian needs. Theologically, I would remind people this was also the time of some of the greatest heresies of the church. Not just little issues but big ones. The early church was indeed posed for church planting and growth but at a certain point it becomes inconvenient to have this model and it becomes far to unwieldy for even a small group of people to maintain. I think the house model is great for certain things and for others it is not so good. The early church simply gave way to more authoritarian structure as a way to survive persecution and then it stuck once the persecution was over.
There is one thing that neither of these models address and that is the problem of the New Transparency. The free availability of information will still wreak havoc on these two models as much as the building on the corner with a full-time pastor. In fact without experts to combat critics you leave the flock very vulnerable to the wolves. What is needed is a place to coordinate the knowledge, education and expertise of the clergy to answer the attacks of critics on one hand and also a place for people to come and be transparent with their spiritual. emotional, social and physical problems where they will not be judged but actually counseled and given answers they can use. To me the thing that has caused the problem should also be the solution – the free flow of information thanks to technology. The internet needs to be utilized to combat the problems that have been caused by its existence. The other side of the sword needs to be unsheathed.
The next part of this series focuses on how his might be possible.