Change may be the only constant, but the last few years have been a whirlwind. This is particularly true for congregations across the country. In an article posted on Religion Unplugged, Rick Reinhard describes the real estate crisis facing the United Methodist Church. But much of this is true across denominational lines.
Is the Pandemic to Blame?
Reinhard begins by pointing out that even before the pandemic, "75 to 100 houses of worship were closing per week in the United States." He supposes that if churches are anything like restaurants and retail stores, 20% of them can expect to close, leaving hundreds of thousands of facilities empty.
That said, the pandemic isn't all to blame. Americans have been less and less inclined to consider themselves Christians or to participate regularly in church. With the use of cars to venture to churches outside one's neighborhood, and the rise in online church, congregations are often fighting over an ever-decreasing pool of people.
The All-Too-Familiar Crisis
What happens is all-too-familiar. "Congregations dwindle, contributions decline, reserves erode, buildings deteriorate, staff is less able to be supported, the church becomes less attractive to attend...." and so on and so forth.
And yet, the cost of maintaining the facility does not decrease. In fact, with deferred maintenance, it becomes more and more expensive. Each year, a greater portion of the budget is allocated to the facility, and for what? It doesn't keep these congregations from being one major repair away from closing...
So, What's Next?
What's especially tough to watch is individual congregations facing this crisis alone. As Reinhard says, "churches that need to close do so one at a time, often with deteriorated property and decimated finances, rather than as part of any sort of local or regional strategy."
This is the path that most congregations find themselves on, unwilling to face the financial realities that have been making themselves clear for awhile now. But closing isn't the only option. Sometimes what you need is to bring in someone with fresh eyes, to help you figure out the way forward.
Time to Come Together
Before you get to the final crisis, take a moment to breathe...to think...to write an email. Maybe that's going to be an email to your city council member, the elementary principal, or a local non-profit leader. Or maybe you'll reach out to someone like DCA, saying, hey this is our situation, what do you think our next move should be?
Sending an email to email@example.com is always a good place to start. It doesn't mean you're hiring an architect, it means you're reaching out to the wider body of Christ. Let's explore what's ahead together, bounce some ideas off one another and see what sticks.
The DCA Advantage
Sometimes the best thing is talking to someone outside of your regular orbit, because you can be yourself and admit the challenges you're facing, the doubts you're having. Plus, you didn't get into ministry because of the building! It's silly to think you should be figuring out what to do with it on your own.
Luckily, with DCA, you don't just get the insight of architects who specialize in working with churches. You get to talk to a fellow pastor. Our team is made up of Christians who have navigated the situation you're in, and come out the other side. Before you throw in the towel, reach out to DCA.