Worth your time this morning: A Washington Post profile on recent innovations in congregational development shows how consultants to declining churches are asking necessary but often heartbreaking questions.
The piece begins with Bob Gallagher, founder of the Church Development Institute.
A former Episcopal priest, the gentle 60-year-old is a professional church-savior, a consultant who travels the country trying to resuscitate houses of worship that are losing people and passion. With large swaths of organized religion in decline across the nation, Gallagher's dance card is full.
His initial meetings at St. Augustine's were emotional. He confronted people who had been focused on paying the mortgage with more wrenching questions: Do you really have a reason to be in this neighborhood, or could you move somewhere cheaper? What does it mean to be an Episcopalian? Could you merge with a church from another denomination? Do you agree on worship styles? Who are you?
"I remember being in tears," said Virginia Mathis, 64, a St. Augustine regular for 30 years. "He's pushy in a gentle way."
Whether it's by their own hand or their bishop's, declining congregations very often face the question of closure, or at least must honestly face it among several possibilities which may include leaving their existing facilities, taking out the pews, and/or focusing on a new ministry that stretches congregants (while also revitalizing them and rebranding their church's name).