Looking over video of questions and answers from the October walkabouts in the Diocese of Minnesota (the election is Oct. 31st), we note finalists' responses to the sticky question, "How would you approach the difficult task of closing and merging congregations on life support?"
If a community is focusing all its energy and all its resources on maintaining a building, then I would say that they have become more curators than Christians. And if that's the case, and if they're no longer able to sustain the income to take care of that building, then it's time.
What I've been thinking about was my experience in pastoral care with families, when an elder of a family is unable to care for him- or herself in the homestead any longer... If a family can begin that conversation sooner rather than later, while the (elderly) person still has his or her authority and ability to make decisions, ... the conversation goes a lot better than if you wait too long and all of that's taken away and the family has to step in with a more authoritative hand.
I understand the real tension between tent and tabernacle... Our forebears in Israel lived in the tent, and the ark was in the tent for a long, long time... And then they got the Temple... they became confined in some ways.... I don't stand here suggesting I have any easy answers for our future in terms of mergings/closings, but I am committed to exploring and staying with every congregation as they look at those challenging questions...
I think closing a congregation needs to be the last possible step.
There's a part of me that often thinks, Have I exhausted, would we exhaust, everything we could do to really make that place as viable and healthy as possible? That's the question to begin with, and you can't ask that question unless if you really haven't spent time with the people there....
When it comes to [working with] congregations, ... help them discern, help them assess, help them find where God is calling them to be.