My wife and I share the posts we find each day on our respective Facebook account newsfeeds. One of my wife’s friends shared this quotation recently: “With the start of 2015, the year 2030 is just as close as 2000.”
While it’s a fairly straightforward observation, nonetheless, I began thinking about the difference that 15 years can make.
The year 2000 had no Facebook. In 2015, through Facebook and other means, I am connected with more people on a regular basis – even if we haven’t been in each other’s physical presence in years – than ever before.
By 2030, the technology will have changed just as unexpectedly as a person from 2015 time traveling back to the past of 2000.
Given my line of work, I started thinking about the issue of change and churches. Many congregations, I suspect, look at the year 2030 with some apprehension, knowing the challenges of what 2015 holds: reductions in contributions, endowments or both, triggering staff cuts and limiting programming.
In addition, pastoral positions are decreasing while increases in facility-upkeep costs seem to worry the congregation more. And the list goes on.
Finding a more stable and sustainable way of being a local church seems a tall order by 2016, let alone whatever 2030 holds for us in the future.
Worse, many churches are governed by outdated bylaws. Most churches will nod and even chuckle appreciatively when I typify what I hear from other churches about their bylaws: “Our bylaws stipulate all these boards and committees, and we don’t have enough people to fill them, let alone people willing to agree to serve.”
Reviewing these bylaws will reveal frequently that these governance documents pre-date 2000, hailing mostly from that increasingly distant era of the mid-20th century.
Why should we be shocked in 2015 that bylaws predating 2000 are ineffective or out of touch with our current congregational needs?
I worry that churches forget that they are following documents written by our forebears who went to church when Eisenhower was president.
While we do not know necessarily what the future holds, we can think about the 15 years prior to 2015.
Where was the church in 2000 and how has our congregation changed in the intervening times? Are we able to identify ways where change was not only recognized but also understood with faithful and reality-based responses?
From my own experience of the past 15 years, I can honestly say few folks really wanted to think about 1985 to 2000 with an analytic eye or enter into significant reflection and analysis about those years, let alone the 15 years between 2000 and now.
Fifteen years can be an eternity in the lives of any organization, and churches have been slow to adapt.
For example, while some congregations now provide electronic giving options, our national commerce shifted to “plastic” and “online” well before this change was implemented.
In 2000, Cokesbury (a former employer) had a robust number of bookstores and just the beginnings of a website.
By mid-2013, only the website remained, as all of the stores were closed in order to stay competitive where Cokesbury believed its customer base (and its manageable overhead) was already requiring them to be to stay relevant.
What was a slender new sales channel for Cokesbury 15 years ago is now a major driver of sales and “brand awareness.” Walking into a Cokesbury store is now a fond memory.
In the past 15 years, one church I served became a fond memory as well. The church that ordained me to ministry closed and merged with a church they helped plant decades before.
Most churches in my region, the American Baptist Churches of New York State, are served by clergy called to less than full-time positions and with decreasing certainty that a parsonage or any benefits are available.
It is fair to say that churches today must think carefully about strengthening their lay leadership and diversifying their collaborative ministry with a pastor rather than just looking for a pastor who will provide the proverbial 24/7 presence without the need of employment or income beyond the church.
Being able to stand in the middle of a 30-year period and consider 15 years past and 15 yet to come requires a different type of leadership.
Lay leaders and clergy have a vested interest in learning to take this broader view by studying organizational development, managing anxiety while leading change in congregations, and availing themselves of “best practices” in financial and property management with an eye to the future.
Jerrod H. Hugenot is the associate executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of New York State. He blogs at Preaching and Pondering, where a longer version of this article first appeared. It is used with permission.