Too many Churches suffer from club mentality!
Church Planning thus far has centred on how many ministers we have and how many Churches can survive with the number of ministers we have! We look at parish figures and population size as if that makes any difference - at the moment the only thing that parish boundaries tell us is which minister is responsible for a parish funeral! A parish can have thousands of houses in it, but still have 40 people sitting in the Church on a Sunday!
Churches maintain they should continue to exist because they still have a youth organisation or a Guild or a badminton club or any combination of these and more...nothing against such, but that is not enough to keep the doors open! But most of all, Churches maintain they should continue to exist because they have always been there and no one wants to see their Church close! They have memories there, they have generations before them there...I know, and whilst these are not unimportant, they are still not enough!
If you are the only Church in the middle of a community, with no other Church for many miles, then you might have a case to keep the doors open, but even then that is not enough!
Where several Churches exist in close proximity, with worshipping numbers that could easily be accommodated into one, why on earth are we keeping them all open? Because we see ourselves, though we don't admit it, as clubs! We should be seeing ourselves as fellow Christians, and as such we should be pulling resources to advance the cause of the Kingdom in Scotland and bring the Good News of the Christian faith back into the life of an increasingly secular Scotland! Time and again at General Assembly (as recently as 2019) we have heard it said by the General Trustees that we still have far too many buildings!!!
If my Church closes, I'm definitely not joining that one along the road! If my Church closes, I'm not going to any Church! Familiar phrases? Sadly, yes! And so we retreat from taking hard decisions, because we don't want to lose members and income. We talk then of reviewing the situation in five years or talk about congregations joining in discussions with a view to linking one day or, worse still, we do nothing. What kind of faith attaches itself to a building? If every Church building in Scotland were to disappear, would the Church of Scotland disappear too? If we were to start afresh, where would one Church suffice where two, three, or more, exist just now?
When we plan for the future, how often do we ask every congregation to come up with their vision for mission in their community? And how are they going to put that plan into action? And ask them what they are doing in worship and how they are sharing the Gospel in new and relevant ways with people of all ages? We seldom do.
Instead we ask, how many members do you have? - when we should be asking how many actually come to worship regularly?
We ask what size is the population of your parish? - when what we should be asking is what people live in your parish and how can you connect with them?
We ask how many funerals does the minister take? - when we should be laying aside our territorial ministry and its obligations in order to address the mission of our Churches.
What we need now is robust Church Planning in each newly formed regional Presbytery which will have powers to produce a visionary Plan for its area. Presbyteries will then agree the way forward and implement same, with no appeal beyond Presbytery. By all means have discussion and consultations - but not for long - and not ones in which the participants have the status quo at the back of their minds - rather, one in which radical change for their Churches and communities is on the table and which generates excitement about this new thing that is emerging! And are there places where we could plant a new type of Church and let loose a few more Pioneers?
Will this result in a blueprint for success? Only God knows. But we cannot simply sit by and watch the old institution decline to rubble because we did not have the courage to confront the club mind-set! We are still faced with an increasingly secular Scotland where the Christian faith has been moved to the fringes. Instead of being happy to sit on the fringes and die a slow death, let us at least go out with a bang! And who knows, the Church of Scotland may once again flourish in this land. Renewal is something we all hope and pray for, but I believe God calls us to action to make it happen!
Mon the reformers !
(This page was last updated January 2021)