Closing Our Own Churches

By Jan Edmiston, DMin ’01

Yesterday someone said to me: We don’t trust you because we think you want to close our church. It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard that and it won’t be the last.

The truth is, though, that those churches are usually closing themselves.

That sounds really harsh and I don’t mean to be disrespectful. But congregations on the cusp of closure are often there because they’ve made choices that have risked the future of the church they love. Among those poor choices:

Yep, that sounds severe, but it’s sadly true. Before denominational leaders have the conversation about a church’s plans for the future (which might mean closing so that a new congregation might be resurrected in their place) it’s almost always the case that church members have unwittingly made choices that are killing their ministry.

Sometimes reboots are not possible because the culture is beyond shifting. But sometimes reboots are indeed possible. Again: another choice.

I want your church to thrive and make an impact in the name of Jesus Christ. I don’t want your church to close if you are truly and authentically ready to choose a completely different way of being the church.

Jan Edmiston is the associate executive presbytery for ministry in the Presbytery of Chicago, where she has served since 2011. Prior to that she served congregations in northern Virginia and New York. She completed her MDiv at Andover Newton Theological School and her DMin in Christian Spirituality at CTS in 2001. She has graciously agreed to let us repost some of her blog entries (including guest bloggers) from A Church for Starving Artists.

The Center for Lifelong Learning offers an abundance of courses and events for pastors and lay-persons seeking vibrant learning and cohort opportunities specifically created to build and enhance skills in Christian education and formation, church leadership, spiritual formation and spiritual direction. Check out our current classes, including Learning to Read the Signs of Church Conflict Before it Reaches the Point of No Return, and many more here.

Photo by Anna G. Larson from this article.

2 thoughts on “Closing Our Own Churches”

  1. Sam Stone says:

    “They chose … they chose … they chose …” who are they? They are just sheep. It’s natural for the sheep to behave like sheep–the real sheep are shortsighted, venerable, lack a sense of direction, so on. I believe it is the shepherds that led them astray.

    I think the real cause of decline is that the mainline denominations have developed a cultural of blaming the sheep for being sheepish. As a shepherd, I am tempted to blame the sheep so that I can feel better about my failure to lead. But, let us be honest.

    if I must blame someone other than my own leadership, I would blame the seminaries for teaching the impractical courses. Most of the professors have never led a church. Most professors have little leadership skill. Most seminaries don’t teach leadership.

    As for the trend, I believe pluralism is challenging the church that are stuck in Western theology. Again, I honor the European theologians that contributed a great deal to the modern Christianity. But that theology has a glass box that doesn’t allow other culture to contribute to it. Anyone that thinks or speaks outside of the 16th century European theology is instantly labeled heretic. The new generation is leaving the church because they can’t make sense of God in the European Theological Glass Box.

    Most importantly, they see too much theology without spirituality. As Henry Nouwen said, the Easterners try to “be with God,” while the Westerners try to “talk about God.” The younger generations are looking for a way to “be with God,” but the churches keep “talking about God.”

    1. CTS Staff says:

      Sam, thank you for sharing your thoughts. You raise a number of good points. The leadership collectively (pastors and elders) do share in the blame with their congregations. And we cannot speak for seminaries generally, but Columbia Seminary does have professors with practical experience. That is also why we require all MDiv students to take a minimum of 2 terms of contextual education (intern opportunities). We take seriously the need to combine academic excellence with practical application both in our degree programs and our Lifelong Learning opportunities for pastors and lay leaders.

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