There is a confluence of factors steamrolling toward us that I think we are largely asleep to in Churches of Christ. What happens next is anyone’s guess but I think we can plan and adjust in a way that makes sense.
What are those factors and what kind of change is it leading toward?
Upcoming ministers – The last time I checked, enrollment in our Christians colleges for typical ministry/Bible degrees is down. Recruitment has become difficult for some of our Church of Christ Universities. There are fewer people wanting to do traditional ministry than in years past. It also seems to me that college age people are more drawn to non-profits and missions than they are to congregational ministry. Maybe they smell something those of us entrenched in our systems have a hard time smelling? More on that in a moment.
Change in culture and values – What are our young people smelling that we may not be smelling? Some say it is just lack of commitment. I don’t believe that. This is a zealous bunch. They have grown up in church and haven’t liked what they have seen on the leadership level. They have seen unhealthiness all around: poor leadership styles, poor minister-elder-congregation relationships, etc.
They also don’t like how the money is spent. The typical church spends most of its budget on staff and facility. The rest goes to various ministries. It seems upside down.
Before we blame one generation (which we shouldn’t do anyway) their parents weren’t big on encouraging them to go into full time ministry. Their parents were complaining about the worship service and the preaching on the way home while encouraging their kids to be doctors and lawyers.
The state of our churches – Churches are mostly in decline even as the population around them grows. That also means budgets are flat to down as people give more per person to make up the difference or can’t give enough to make up the difference so the contribution is dropping in many churches on an annual basis.
A Challenging combination – The weaknesses of our flawed paradigm have caught up with us and we are about to reach the point of no return to the way things were. That isn’t bad. That can actually be good. This all leads us to a crunch point where churches cannot afford to hire someone because they are shrinking and the pool of people to hire is also shrinking. The demands of needing a professional degree has also increased the competitive cost of people who can fill these positions, which makes the crunch to afford someone even harder on congregations
What can we do to address this while we still have the resources to do something about it?
I don’t claim to have an answer for this. Here is what I would like to see us do. Go back to the priesthood of all believers by expecting everyone to ministry. That means we need to spend less time educating on random pet classes and sermons and devote time to equipping our members to be ministers. We also need to cut down on overhead. This could be a move to house churches. This could be merging churches. This could mean downsizing facilities. More of our money needs to be going to help people not brick and mortar.
I would like to develop a multi-year curriculum that would train our volunteers to take up much of the ministry of the church. This could help the congregation wean off their reliance on professional ministers and take on the work of ministry themselves. Talk about a first century move! This would take some time to develop but I think if we start soon we can meet this need before things get even more challenging. We could do apprentice work and encourage more people to get graduate level theological training as that will still be needed.
I am just dreaming here a bit and sharing something that has been on my heart for a while but may be time to start working on soon. I would love to hear your input, from your experience!