Embrace change, leaders of failing churches are told
- CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE
From the PCUSA News Service.
January 15, 2002
Embrace change, leaders of failing churches are told
Experts say reaching out to new neighbors is crux of redevelopment
by Evan Silverstein
MESA, AZ - North Presbyterian Church has been on the same corner near
downtown Lansing, MI, for about 150 years.
Over time, many onetime members have moved to new suburban digs, and
the Old Towne neighborhood, once predominantly white, has become more
The area also has attracted many people with "alternative"
lifestyles, such as gays and lesbians.
And the members of North Church, mostly commuters who live in the
suburbs, are looking for effective ways of reaching out to the new
"Our big challenge has been, 'How do we maintain a church that has a
rich history?'" said Lamont Clegg, an elder at the church, which
averages about 75 people for Sunday worship. '"How do we become
relevant to a community that is a different community than when the
church was begun?"' Clegg and two other elders traveled to Mesa, AZ,
last week to look for answers during the Sixth National Churchwide
Redevelopment Conference of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
He said the North Church elders hoped to learn "how to reach out to
the community (when) many of the people who are members don't live in
the community anymore."
Cultural changes in the United States, especially rapidly shifting
demographic patterns in many areas, have profound implications for
many congregations. Many churches have responded by retrenching and
going into "survival mode," but many others, including Clegg's in
Michigan, are embracing the changes through redevelopment ministries.
The four-day conference, which started Jan.10, was intended to give
the 530 registered participants - clergy, lay leaders and presbytery
and synod executives - a chance to share strategies that helped
revitalize churches affected by drastic changes in their communities.
Church redevelopment, sometimes called "transformation," takes many
forms. Sometimes it requires a fundamental overhaul of a church's
mission and ministry. Sometimes it's as simple as a session retreat
devoted to fine-tuning the existing program.
Often, the seeds of redevelopment take time to germinate, speakers
noted during the conference, whose theme was Come from the Four
Winds, O Spirit ... That They May Live (Ezekiel 37:9).
"There are no easy answers," Clagg pointed out. "Nobody can wave a
magic wand. ... It won't happen overnight; and that's an important
thing for us to realize. But through the process, we will get to
where we want to go."
Among the keys to redevelopment identified by conference leaders:
overcoming fear of change; rediscovering spiritual energy; coming to
terms with the past; building a ministry team of leaders; developing
a vision for the future; identifying and nurturing lay leaders.
The fact that two-thirds of the 11,200 churches in the PC(USA) are
losing members dramatizes the importance of the denomination's
redevelopment program, sponsored by the Churchwide Redevelopment
Training Network and the Evangelism and Church Development Program
Area of the National Ministries Division (NMD).
"I think there is a growing awareness across the denomination that a
transformation of the church is needed," said Bruce Stevens, a member
of the Churchwide Redevelopment Steering Committee and one of the
conference planners. "Redevelopment is one of the ways ... to
(produce) greater vitality in our churches."
Conference officials had speculated that attendance might suffer
because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and
Washington, DC, but could see no such effect. They were especially
pleased that many participants, like Clagg, were attending the annual
conference for the first time.
"People are seeing this as a way (to) come together with people who
are in the same boat they're in," Stevens said. "They can pick up
skills and get started here."
Conference newcomer Beth Wagner, a student at McCormick Theological
Seminary in Chicago, was sent to the conference by the session of
Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church, a redeveloping congregation that
averages 60 Sunday worshipers, to pick up some fresh ideas.
Wagner said she heard suggestions on adult-education programming and
redevelopment philosophy that she will recommend to the Lincoln Park
church, including "the concept that (successful redevelopment) is a
combination of the pastor and the congregation."
"It really is a team effort," she said. "I've heard that over and
over. That's something that I'm going to have to sell, to both the
pastor and the congregation, because both of them are going, 'You do
"I think that's going to be my biggest point. I've already started
thinking about how I'm going to do that."
The keynote speakers, the Rev. Veronica Goines, pastor of the
multi-racial Marin City (CA) Presbyterian Church, and the Rev. Edward
L. Wheeler, president of Christian Theological Seminary in
Indianapolis, urged Presbyterians who find themselves in changing
communities to reach out to groups not now in their pews.
The Rev. Daniel Watson, pastor of Pleasant Run Presbyterian Church in
Cincinnati, OH, agreed that such outreach should be among the highest
priorities in redevelopment.
"We are going to have to make a decision whether we want to reach out
to groups who are not traditionally our constituents," said Watson,
who was attending his third redevelopment conference.
"And what is our commitment to communities that have changed? Do we
want to partner with them, as Ed Wheeler said? ... Do we really want
to take the plunge, and identify with them?
Since the mid-1990s, when redevelopment became a priority of the
Evangelism and Church Development Program Area, the model of
church-based community organization has spread across the nation. In
late 1995, about 40 people representing presbyteries interested in
redevelopment formed the Churchwide Redevelopment Training Network.
The first national conference, in January 1997, drew about 300
Dealing effectively with change is crucial if the PC(USA) is going to
thrive, said the Rev. Mark Deaton, pastor of Greene Street
Presbyterian Church in Augusta, GA, which has about 43 members on its
"A church is ... an organic, living entity - either it grows or it
dies," Deaton said. "We've got an awful lot of churches in this
denomination that are not growing, so I think ... how we do church is
going to be changing radically."
The conference participants also heard a preliminary report on the
findings of the U.S. Congregational Life Survey, which questioned
more than 350,000 worshipers and 2,000 congregations from all faith
groups to produce a comprehensive statistical portrait of U.S.
worshipers and congregations. The $1.3 million survey was part of a
project funded by the Lilly Endowment and the Louisville Institute.
Similar surveys also were conducted in England, Australia and New
For information about redevelopment, log on to
http://www.churchredevelopment.net or call the Churchwide
Redevelopment Network at 1-888-728-7228, ext. 5242, or by email at
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