Let’s play: morph your church into a museum

The long-range goal of many congregations is to turn their church into a museum. It is not intentional. It is unintentional. It is just that actions taken year after year migrates them away from thriving as a missional movement to existing as an institutionalized organization much like a museum.

They believe the pre-museum actions seem like the right thing to do. They fall prey to short-term thinking such as the following: We need that new building to keep and to attract youth. We need to refurbish the organ or install a new one. We need to revitalize our programs because they seem so comfortable to us, and worked so well in years past.

Our view of our pastor is one of chaplain. Therefore, as we get more older people we need to hire an associate chaplain. We have so many needs here that we cannot afford to give all of that money to missional engagement outside our congregation.

The more of these kinds of actions a congregation takes, the more they are winding their way up the steps to the front door of their museum. To illustrate this point, let us play the game, Morph Your Church into a Museum.

Here is how it works. Read each of the following statements. If a statement is true of your congregation, then give yourself 10 points. Once you reach 70 points, you are a museum. This does not mean your church ceases to exist, but only that it’s primary leadership function is one of being curators and docents in a museum.

1. We lack a truly positive and spiritual vision of the future toward which God is pulling our congregation. We are empowered more by the desire to achieve programmatic success and to be managed well, then we are to be on a spiritual and strategic journey into God’s future for us, and captivated by an ever clearer vision for our journey.

2. More than 80 percent of our annual operating or undesignated budget goes to support the direct and indirect costs of church staff, and buildings and grounds. This means we spend less than 20 percent of our budget on spiritual formation and missional engagement.

3. We spent an amount in a recent year greater than our annual operating or undesignated budget on refurbishing or buying and installing a new or used organ. We did this in spite of the fact that many people under 50 years old indicated they were not interested in an organ. It was primarily funded and enjoyed by those over 50 years old.

4. We built new or retrofitted an existing building on the fantasy of “If we build it they will come”. Our hope was to reach or retain a younger generation of people. We ignored the wisdom of having a strategy, then staffing it, and when it is successful and there is no other choice to provide a building to house it.

5. We refused to start a new worship service to reach a younger generation of people. Or, if we did, we scheduled it at a time they would not come, underfunded it, criticized it, and failed to pray for its success. Or, we started a new worship service so radically different from our current service that we were repulsed by it and ultimately sought to kill it.

6. We have a large endowment, and income from the endowment is more than 15 percent of our annual operating or undesignated budget. We realize this discourages the stewardship or generosity of our congregation, but we have become dependent on this passive income.

7. The average member of our congregation has been attending for at least 30 years. Many years ago we lost our zeal and effectiveness for attracting people into our congregation. Any new members are not from conversion growth, and seldom from biological growth. Only a trickle of transfer growth from other congregations provides new members. The number of new members is not enough to offset the loss of members by transferring out or death.

8. The most prominent picture hanging on a wall in the church is of a Sunday several decades ago when the sanctuary was full to overflowing for a special occasion in the life of the congregation. This picture demonstrates the most important aspirational core value of the church which the senior or solo pastor is expected to lead the church to achieve again.

9. The top stated priority of the congregation is to reach young adult households. The top unstated priority of the congregation is that young adult households will not be allowed to change the basic character and nature of the congregation.

10. One of these dates—1955, 1965, 1975, or 1985—represents the best years in the life of the congregation. It has now been at least a generation since the best years were experienced.

What is your score? What does it mean? Are you already a museum? If so, is there a clear way forward to once again function as a movement? Are you headed to becoming a museum? If so, what course corrections can you make right now?

What other statements would you add that may characterize congregations who are moving from movement to museum?

George Bullard

Author's Website
About the Author
George is President of The Columbia Partnership at www.TheColumbiaPartnership.org, This is a Christian ministry organization that seeks to transform the North American Church for vital and vibrant ministry. It primarily does this through the FaithSoaring Churches Learning Community. See www.ConnectWithFSCLC.info. George is the author of three books: Pursuing the Full Kingdom Potential of Your Congregation, Every Congregation Needs a Little Conflict, and FaithSoaring Churches. George is also General Secretary [executive coordinator] of the North American Baptist Fellowship at www.NABF.info. This is one of the six regions of the Baptist World Alliance. George holds is Senior Editor of TCP Books at www.TCPBooks.info. More than 30 books have been published on congregational leadership issues.

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