Writing for the Alban Institute, Jeffrey D. Jones describes a feeling familiar to leaders of mainline denominations:
Boards continue to meet. They continue to plan programs—good programs. Worship continues in the established patterns of the past years—the music is as good as ever; the quality of the sermons hasn’t declined. You’re still offering a high-quality graded Sunday school for children at all levels. Maybe the congregation has made some adaptations to better respond to the realities it is facing. Perhaps you’ve reduced the length of terms on boards to two years from three because you found that people did not want to make long-term commitments. Perhaps you’ve added more contemporary music to the worship service or even established a “seeker service.” Perhaps you’ve changed the Sunday school curriculum in order to make it more teacher-friendly or activity-based. But somehow something is missing. It’s still difficult to recruit the board members. Worship attendance has hit a plateau or is declining. More and more it seems like you’re just going through the motions. You’re doing what you know how to do. You’re doing what has always worked before. But now, it just doesn’t seem to be working. And you wonder what’s wrong—what’s wrong with the church, with the people, with the leaders, with yourself.
That’s what I had been struggling with for a number of years in two different churches. And yet more and more I found it all but impossible to avoid thinking that I was just “playing pastor”—doing the things I had been taught to do in seminary and by my mentors, keeping the organization running, leading meaningful worship, planning interesting programs. Yes, more and more it seemed to me that I was simply going through the motions and it just wasn’t enough anymore. I could literally feel the energy draining from my body and the congregational body. I knew something different was needed, but I didn’t know what. When I spoke those words that evening they really surprised me. I had never said them before, even to myself. I had never put it that way before, even in my private thoughts. All the old answers about what it means to do and be church don’t work anymore. I’d said it at last. Now, what could I do with it?