North America has at least 350,000 religious congregations. Every year about one percent of them die. That means that 10 years from now, 35,000 congregations will no longer exist. Will your church be one of them?
What is the “survivability quotient” of your congregation?
Congregations die for various reasons — not just from old age and the lack of attendance and resources, although these may be the biggest contributors. Out of new congregations or church plants, a significant number always fail. Some die within the first two years, while others survive six to 10 years before they are declared unsuccessful. In some cases merger is an option. When two or three congregations merge, the result is one or two fewer congregations.
What if we were to expand the definition of “exist”? What if it included not only churches that are no longer alive, but also those that have lost their vitality?
Congregational vitality is the capacity to create and sustain a meaningful Christ-centered, faith-based existence that focuses more on being on mission than on maintenance. By that definition, many congregations lack genuine vitality. Rather than being clear about their mission, purpose, values and vision, they are stuck on the ritual habits or patterns of doing church. While the quality of their ministries may be acceptable, many decisions and actions are based on a culture shaped by the past or present rather than by a sense of the new thing God is doing in their midst.
What is the “vitality quotient” of your congregation?
What if our definition of “exist” included not only those congregations that are no longer alive or have lost their vitality, but also those churches that have lost their vibrancy? Congregational vibrancy exists when a congregation expresses obvious passion around its vision for a future in ways that captivate its spiritual imagination. This vision energizes the church’s disciple-making processes and missional actions. Through spiritual discernment, the congregation knows who they are under God and where God is leading them, and they are intentionally moving in the direction of a shared vision.
Congregations that lack vibrancy begin to age demographically and as living organisms. While they may be a long way from closing their doors, they have moved to a point in the congregational life cycle that leads to non-existence. In my experience, any congregation that is more than 20 years old is only a decade or less away from losing its vibrancy. If your church is at least a generation old, the issue of vibrancy is a tremendous challenge.
Deep transition and change are necessary each decade for congregations to retain their vibrancy. Many churches assume the way they operated during their first generation of their existence will sustain them forever. Other churches assume if they make significant changes after their first generation of life, the new focus will sustain them forever. Most of the time, both assumptions prove false.
What is the “vibrancy quotient” of your congregation?
Survivability, vitality and vibrancy quotients are crucial for congregations. These are influenced in turn by a variety of factors, including vision, leadership, intentionality, expectations, tenure and age of the congregation’s members and regular attendees, generosity, worship, capacity for dealing with conflict, balance of financial allocations, condition of facilities, and the ability of congregational governance or management systems to empower rather than control.
Take core values as an example. A complete lack of understanding about a congregation’s core values usually leads to closure. Fuzzy core values contribute to a loss of vitality. Clear core values lead to vibrancy.
Of course, it is a combination of multiple factors that determines a congregation’s future. As you consider the factors that contribute to survivability, vitality and vibrancy, how do you think your church is measuring up?
George Bullard, strategic coordinator for The Columbia Partnership (www.thecolumbiapartnership.org), has been a consultant and coach for congregations and denominations for 35 years. He was elected this summer as general secretary for the North American Baptist Fellowship of the Baptist World Alliance. For Bullard’s list of the 25 factors that contribute to a church’s survivability, vitality and vibrancy, go to www. BullardJournal.org. This article was distributed by Associated Baptist Press.