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Embrace change, leaders of failing churches are told

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    CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE From the PCUSA News Service. ... January 15, 2002 Embrace change, leaders of failing churches are told Experts say reaching out
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 15, 2002

      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
      racially diverse.

      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
      Send your response to this article to pcusa.news@...

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