18 Years x Infinity

So I’m working away, minding my own business and when I take a break, read a few Facebook Posts, my friends Adam Walker Cleaveland and Jim Bonewald share a blog written by another friend, John Vest.  Still another friend’s comments (Nicholas Yoda) made me give it a deeper read.  Well, as I suspect he intended, John’s words stimulated me to think about the future of the church.  He challenged me to think about whether the PCUSA might be dead in 18 years.  He pushed me to wonder what other ways we could think about where we are now and where we might be headed as a denomination.  You should really go read what he had to say, then come back here.  Here’s a link:  18 Years to Go?  

(imaginary elevator music playing “Close to You” while you read John’s blog)

Thanks for coming back.  Here’s my response to John:

Dear John,
You and I are on the same page in so many ways, but on this, I find I can’t share what seems like a pretty bleak view. Numbers do not tell much of a story. So for what it’s worth, here’s some more food for thought:

1) Regarding Churches Leaving the Denomination:  Churches may be seeking dismissal, but logically, we should expect this will level off and then taper off fairly soon. It really is a finite numbers of disgruntled congregations. The end of this is already in sight if we just look closely. We don’t need to spend much more time or energy on this. Let it take its course and move our best thinkers on to other things.

2) Regarding Church Closures and Declining Attendance:  Church attendance may be declining, but Presbyterians are doing some amazing things with their time, talent and treasure – many of these things are rising out of small or struggling congregations. This is hopeful stuff. We have to get creative about sustaining some of our smaller churches or churches overwhelmed by facilities and this means we have to move our best entrepreneurial thinkers toward these issues and away from #1.

3) Regarding the Death of the Denomination:  I think we need to lean into our resurrection hope. We may well be in the midst of some of the darker days of Presbyterian history, but I believe we need to let future historians ponder that. The resurrection beckons us to look way beyond the grave to the next thing God is doing. It’s that blasted mystery that hangs us up every time. Calvin said it would and it does. We can’t see it yet – we can’t perceive it, but God is clearly not done yet.

Maybe better questions to ask are these: How can we make the best use of the resources God has give us today? If we can no longer sustain the ministries of the past that must mean God is calling us toward something else. What is that “something else?” How can large churches begin now to think about partnerships that sustain them and bring grace to their smaller church neighbors? What can small congregations bring to the table of community development and neighborhood revitalization? What new ways of connecting to their communities can we help existing churches imagine? How can we find out about and then connect to the yearning for community that is so vibrantly present?

I’m really excited about the next 18 years! I see so much potential.

Sincerely, your friend, the eternally optimistic, Pollyanna-in-Christ, Deb

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