The Local Church Looks to the Future [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Lyle E. Schaller
eBook Category: Spiritual/Religion
eBook Description: Lyle E. Schaller is a professional church planner and consultant. His experience has shown him that as most churches plan for the future they are not asking themselves the right questions and are not aware of the myriad possibilities and problems.
With professional thoroughness, Mr. Schaller takes the reader in minute detail into the procedures and problems of church planning. Much of the book is developed around reconstructed discussions of which the author was a part. Throughout he provides a wealth of specific information and ideas for churches to use in self-study and planning.
eBook Publisher: United Methodist Publishing House
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2002
This book rests on four simple assumptions.
The first, and by far the most important here, is that the local church is neither obsolete nor irrelevant. While not all the necessary ministries needed in contemporary society can be based on the traditional congregational structure of Christianity, this does not mean that the congregation should be abandoned. The congregation and the parish church have been the dominant institutional expressions of the Christian church for nearly two thousand years.
The early disciples went out and founded congregations of the followers of the way. Foreign missionaries learned that they must begin by establishing a ministry of the Word and sacrament as quickly as possible. Students of the growth of the church in South America, Asia, and Africa have concluded that when new congregations are founded, new people are reached with the good news; when this is not done, church growth levels off. The same point has been made by those who have studied new church development in the United States. The historical evidence clearly indicates that the congregation is the most effective channel for carrying out the great missionary commandment in Matthew 28:19.
The parish church is still the most important expression of the church, for the parish is the most concrete form of the church for the vast majority of Christians today. It is the door through which they came into a new relationship with God. The parish is still the foundation on which all other tangible expressions of the church are based. It is from the parish church that are drawn the money and the manpower to support and staff the new forms of the church which are viewed by many critics of the parish as the hope of tomorrow. It is the parish church which supplies the money to pay the salaries of many of the critics who contend that the parish church is obsolete, irrelevant, and unnecessary. It is the parish which provides the continuity for the church from generation to generation. Most important of all, it is in and through the local church that individuals come to know Christ, to grow in the faith, to have their lives changed, and to go forth into the world to witness to their faith.
There is no substitute for corporate worship, and there is no substitute for the community of believers in which the Word is preached and the sacraments are duly administered. There is no substitute for the sense and experience of Christian community which can be found only in the parish church. There is no substitute for what the Manifesto adopted by the Lutheran Church in America in 1966 refers to as "the family of God in which those who suffer the bruises of life find support and help, the complacent are stirred and the creative and venturesome are encouraged." The parish church is still the best place from which the church can reach out to people to bring them the good news of Jesus Christ. The parish church is still the best base for reaching out to the various structures and institutions of the world, for many of the men and women who constitute these structures and control these institutions are members of a local church, and this is often the only and certainly the most important contact the church has with them.
So long as the family remains the basic social unit of our society, there will be a place and a need for the parish church which ministers to the family as a family and to the members of the family as individuals. Contrary to critics of the local church who contend that people "no longer live where they live," the vast majority of Americans do lead family-centered lives. This is true is suburbia, it is true in rural America, and it is especially true in the inner city. Thus far no one has discovered a better way of ministering to the family, and to the individual who is the member of a family, than the parish church. Despite the high visibility of the nonfamily individual, 92 percent of the American people do live in family units.
This book is based on the assumption that the congregation as represented by the local church will continue to be the most common institutional expression of the church and that for the vast majority of Americans the institutional link between the individual and the universal church will continue to be the congregation and the parish church.
This is not meant to suggest that other nonparochial ministries are not needed. They are, and they are needed in increasing numbers and greater varieties. Some of these must be issue-centered rather than person-centered ministries. The churches need to be more actively involved in the crucial issues of the day, such as poverty, unemployment, the struggle for social and legal justice, race relations, peace, urban renewal, housing, education, and pollution of the environment. These nonparochial issue-centered ministries provide an opportunity for the churches to become more meaningfully involved in the world. Frequently the most effective means of carrying out these issue-centered ministries is from an ecumenical base involving several denominations, communions, and faiths. This does not mean, however, that contact with the parish should be abandoned. These specialized issuecentered ministries should be thought of as supplementing the parish, not as replacing it.
Some of these specialized nonparochial ministries are personc-entered. These include the coffeehouses, some of the shopping center ministries, the growing number of itinerant street ministries, several of the ministries to tourists, and the apartment ministries. While some of these are exploratory and have no future, most of these attempts to supplement the outreach of the parish through specialized ministries are important and will be even more important tomorrow. They should not be regarded as rivals of the parish, however. Many of these specialized nonparochial ministries, especially the person-centered ones, can and should be related to a worshiping congregation where the Word is preached and the sacraments are administered. Experience again demonstrates that unless these specialized ministries are related to a worshiping congregation or to some institutionalized expression of the church such as the parish, the church will not be able to fulfill all its responsibilities to the people it seeks to reach and serve, to society, or to Christ.
The second assumption on which this book rests is that all the basic purposes of the local church are compatible with one another. There no inherent theological or religious reason why a parish cannot engage in all facets of "congregational care," including preaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments, and concurrently be an effective vehicle for evangelism and engage in mission in the world. It would be heretical to assume that these are incompatible purposes.
On the other hand, it must be recognized that natural institutional pressures may produce goals that are consistent with one or more of these purposes, but which are mutually incompatible. The resulting tensions, however, are a product of these institutional pressures and of flaws in the goal formation process. They are not a result of incompatible purposes.
The third fundamental assumption is that institutionalism is a fact of life in the local church (as in denominational, interdenominational, and ecumenical agencies). Furthermore it is assumed that church leaders can be more helpful and creative by accepting this fact than by a head-in-the-sand rejection of it.
In accepting the fact of institutionalism, a distinction must be drawn between a religious institution and other institutions. A local church, while it is an institution and displays many forms of institutional behavior, is different from secular institutions. It is different in terms of purposes, goals, and organization. Most of all it is different in terms of its reason for being, its motivation, and its relationship to God. As a religious institution it has a unique role in the world and a unique role in the lives of persons.
This book is concerned with that institutional expression of the church known as the parish or the congregation or the local church. This means that considerations of institutional structure, problems of institutional blight, and the elements of institutional change cannot be neglected. Nevertheless, the fact that the parish is a religious institution does mean that the response of churchmen to institutionalism in the parish will be different than the response to institutionalism in other segments of society.
At times the pressures of institutional blight become so great that the parish no longer bears much resemblance to a religious organization. This has happened and is happening to literally thousands of local churches. Anyone who is a true friend of the parish must recognize this and acknowledge it openly. An unknown number of Protestant parishes stand in great need of spiritual renewal. For others it is already too late. To acknowledge the fact and the liabilities of institutionalism, however, does not require one to denounce all institutional expressions of the church. This awareness of the risks and dangers that are inherent in any institution, including the parish, should encourage the Christian to be more receptive to the insights that will help him fight the blight that inevitably accompanies institutionalism.
The fourth assumption on which this book rests is that the quality of the decision-making process in the local church can be improved. It is assumed that the decision makers in the parish can benefit by developing a systematic statement of purpose, by carefully formulating a relevant set of goals, and by considering the experiences of other parishes. It is also assumed that "outsiders" can be helpful to leaders in the local church and that these leaders will utilize the assistance of outsiders. This book is intended to be a resource for parish leaders in their planning for the future of their local church. It is an effort to provide help on eight of the most common planning problems facing parish leaders today. The primary purpose is not to be directive, but rather to be provocative. This book is based on firsthand involvement with the experiences of an unknown number of churchmen in over a thousand parishes representing more than a score of denominations in two dozen states.
The contents of the book are based on the experiences of these parishes, and every event, suggestion, recommendation, illustration, and conversation reported in this book are taken from real life, most of them being firsthand reports. A few are comments and experiences relayed to me by clergymen and laymen. Much of the dialogue has been taken from conferences and planning sessions with parish committees. To avoid embarrassing anyone, proper names have been changed, and in a few cases other descriptive data have been altered slightly to conceal identities. The names of all persons and parishes described are fictitious. In some chapters the experiences of two or more parishes or pastors have been combined in the interests of continuity and brevity. For example, the story of Pastor Richard Hanson and St. John's Church in chapter 1 and the experiences of St. Mark's in chapter 5 are actually the sum of the experiences of several different parishes. In other chapters the events in a particular section did occur as described in a single parish. Much of the first part of chapter 4, for example, is an almost literal account of a single meeting that occurred one Tuesday morning.
This book begins with an account of the vital importance of a clear statement of purpose and of some of the tensions that can result from the lack of an understanding by the members of what the parish is seeking to do and why this is important. Closely related to this is the material in chapter 2 with the emphasis on the goals that grow out of this statement of purpose.
In chapter 3 an attempt is made to discuss the most important problem confronting many parishes, the need to reach out to the people who live in the neighborhood of the parish church but who are outside any church. Evangelism is the most neglected function of most local churches today, and this chapter is an effort to provide some assistance on this vital matter.
The growing vigor of the ecumenical movement has encouraged many church leaders to ask themselves how they can cooperate with other parishes. Two areas of cooperation -- cooperative ministries and joint use of buildings -- are explored in chapter 4.
Despite the current and widely publicized anti-building sentiment in American Protestantism, many parishes find themselves confronted with the necessity of going into a building program. They find they cannot do the job unless they have the tools, and the building usually is an essential tool. Anyone who has worked extensively with inner city congregations can testify to the validity of this statement. Perhaps the easiest way to discover the value of an adequate building in carrying out the mission of the local church is to work with an inner city congregation that has been meeting in a storefront for several years. In chapter 5 are discussed five of the major aspects of an effective building program.
In chapter 6 a special, but comparatively common, type of local church planning problem is reviewed, and generalizations from experience are offered for the use of those who wonder what is ahead for the downtown church or for old First Church.
What's ahead for our church? In many cases an honest answer to that question is simply nothing. During the next decade thousands of local churches will disappear from the scene through dissolution, merger, or relocation. A large proportion of these are located in rural America, but a sizable minority are in urban and suburban communities. Some will be forced to terminate their existence because of urban renewal and highway projects. A far larger number will disappear as a result of population movements and economic trends. Others are simply too small to continue to function as separate organizations in a complex society which is built around a cash economy and demands a high level of formal education in its professional leadership. The economic costs, the shortage of pastors, and the ease of private transportation combine to make the closing of thousands of small parishes an inevitable part of the future. Another larger group will disappear as a result of the merger of the parent denominations. The merger of the Evangelical and Reformed Church with the Congregational Christian Church already has resulted in the elimination of many parishes -- usually through mergers. The merger of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and The Methodist Church may result in the elimination during the next few decades of hundreds of what are now separate local churches. Some of the issues and questions raised by these facts are discussed in chapter 7.
For many church leaders the most difficult question is one of effecting change. In chapter 8 a case study is presented to illustrate an outline or strategy for achieving change that is both simple and effective.
It should be clear to every reader that this book, far most than most, rests upon the contributions of many different people. I am deeply grateful to the pastors, laymen, and denominational staff persons who have shared with me their experiences and insights. I am thankful for the opportunity to have had firsthand encounters with a couple of hundred parishes each year for the past several years. (One of the lessons I have learned from these contacts with many different local churches is that while many of the faults and shortcomings of the parish church tend to have a very high degree of visibility, most of the accomplishments and achievements tend to have a very low degree of visibility. This may be a result of the nature of the church. This distinction in visibility means that the local church tends to produce ammunition for the guns of the critics of the parish without providing equivalent support for those who affirm the validity and value of the parish.) I also am greatly indebted to the trustees of the Regional Church Planning Office who have made it possible for me to have these opportunities to become involved in the life and ministry of these parishes.
I owe a special word of thanks to Jean Bergold, George H. Brown, Shirley Regis, and Richard L. Ruggles. These four persons literally gave me the freedom, the energy, and the time to turn a stack of file folders into the manuscript that became this book.
Part of chapter 5 appeared as copyrighted articles in Church Management in 1966 and 1967, and I am grateful to the publisher, Norman Hersey, for permission to reprint portions of those articles.
This book is dedicated to two longtime servants, friends, and supporters of the parish church who have guided, goaded, inspired, and helped me in many different ways during the years. I am grateful for their interest, their wisdom, and, most of all, for their friendship.
-- LYLE E. SCHALLER
Copyright © 1968 by Abingdon Press