Okay, I admit it. I have been one of those people who has complained that the UMC does not close enough of its dying churches. I have often said that tiny, 6-in-worship churches should move on, should let their churches and cemeteries go, should not be using the resources of the greater UMC to keep them going, that they should give up and die.
But then, this year at annual conference when we voted on the discontinuance of 9 churches, it was so sad to hear that I cried! What is wrong with me? I felt quite wishy-washy.
Yet God gave good news too. I saw and heard of the good work of the Church Legacy Initiative of the WNCC. This group of ministers has been given the role of assisting churches that are nearing their end of life. Their unique ministry helps churches in making “faithful decisions about their future and providing a legacy which will help to make disciples in this and future generations.”
It is estimated that nearly 500 churches in the Western NC Conference have fewer than 50 people in weekly worship. Many churches have been declining over the last 10-15 years. The sad but serious consequence is that maintaining enough missional momentum to make disciples is often very difficult. With many churches in this situation so much of the efforts extended by these faithful congregations is focused on maintaining the pastor, the cemetery and the now-too-big structures built in better years.
I heard that what the Church Legacy Initiative does is come along side these churches. They guide churches through seeking discernment, and allow the congregations to have those hard conversations that everybody dreads. I read that churches decide for themselves if they have the resources for revitalization, whether they can once again develop and grow, or if they will become a Legacy church.
I am thankful that we are facing the future with this kind of direct and deliberate approach for struggling churches. I am thankful that this kind of loving and discerning work is being offered through the Church Legacy Initiative. Being vital in ministry, and making disciples should guide our future. Our focus can’t always be on whether or not we will be able to pay the preacher, the apportionments, the housing, and the power bill this month. God has many places and many ways for us to be used in ministry. The church is made up of the saints of God at work in the Kingdom no matter where they meet.
I am thankful for the small rural church that showed me Jesus, and for those whose doors may close, but whose impact has been great in the Kingdom! I am thankful for The Church Legacy Initiative and their supporting partners, the Duke Endowment, and the UM Foundation of WNC. Good work!
I like to remember too that God's way is to always bring life from death!