Last year, 4,000 churches – there are about 320,000 Christian Churches in the United States – closed their doors.
This is a shocking statement that I will come back to shortly.
When I speak with friends who are active in their churches, I am always curious and ask how things are going. What are the critical issues facing the church’s leadership? It seems that the conversations often parallel what is going on in synagogues: how do we get more people to come to Sunday worship? How do we insure that we have the funds to pay the bills and the staff to do the sacred work that the Lord and Jesus want them to fulfill?
This sounds familiar, right?
A few years back, a Catholic Church in our town had structural issues and had to hold Sunday worship in the social hall in its rectory. A decision was made to build a new modern building. I assumed the Archdiocese in Newark, NJ was orchestrating everything and would take the responsibility for funding. I asked a friend involved in church matters if this is how the new building would be funded. He told me that church leaders would be mounting a capital campaign. They had hired a consulting firm whose work focuses on working with Catholic Churches on such efforts. They conducted a feasibility study and were beginning to meet with those church members who had the capacity to give significantly to the campaign.
This, too, has a familiar ring to it.
A couple of weeks ago, I read an article titled “When the Church Needs a Doctor”. Bill Wilson, the President of the Center for Congregational Health spoke of the many challenges before churches today. As the denominations have their own financial challenges, no longer can churches be dependent on their central leadership – at the denominations – for guidance and assistance. Dr. Wilson spoke of church mergers, and that 4000 churches had closed their doors in the past year.
The fact is the challenges I have been writing about in this blog are not unique to synagogues. Many houses of worship, from all religions and denominations, throughout America are in the same boat.
I was struck with the similarities of Wilson’s “four C’s of healthy churches and their practices” to the advice I often give to synagogue leaders regarding strategic areas of focus:
–Clarity of mission and vision, which is the most preeminent one;
-Managing congregational conflict in a healthy and redemptive way;
-Building a faith community.
Synagogue leaders need to believe in their hearts and minds in the mission and vision of their synagogue. You need to have a vision for the future of a strong and vibrant sacred community.
I haven’t written much about conflict. But it is something that leadership groups will face at some point. Ignoring it by doing nothing about it isn’t healthy.
Much has been written about synagogue boards being transparent and communicating what is going on programmatically and financially with congregants. The more congregants know the more supportive and involved they will be.
I use the words “strong” and “vibrant” and “sacred community” frequently, and often in the same sentence. Being a faith community is what synagogues are all about.
In the coming weeks, with the New Year approaching, there is much for us to do. But you should also be thinking about the future beyond Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And developing a roadmap to be a strong and vibrant sacred community all year long.