We have to deal with difficult realities head on: This has been a very hard time for churches all over the world. As many as nine are on the chopping block in the area. Some or all of them might have to close their doors for good. Worse yet, that is just one diocese. Further, it is not just the Catholic Church. It is every denomination. Very few US churches are thriving in this time of pandemic. They are suffering almost as much as restaurants.
No one likes to think of a church as a competitive business that is subject to all the issues of a competitive business. But the fact is in most cases, churches are 501(c) organizations. A nonprofit corporation is still a corporation that needs to make money. There is property to maintain and salaries to pay. That does not begin to take all the programs into consideration. No one makes money running a free pantry or soup kitchen.
Because membership is stifled, contributions are down. When contributions are down, bills go unpaid. The rest of the progression is pretty clear. Even in the best of times, there are always competitive pressures. Some cities have churches on all four corners of many streets. They are all competing for the same souls. While all churches share the same cause and rejoice when that cause is forwarded, there are only so many members in a given area. Here are some ways churches can maintain theirs, and perhaps even increase during a time of famine:
Tech-Forward and Tech-Friendly
In 2021, churches that are not embracing the realities of high-tech in the lives of their parishioners will have a hard time retaining younger members. When they are not at church, those members are doing their job at tech-forward companies. They work with and around technological wonders that would have seemed miraculous to people just a few generations ago.
A factory worker who wears a powered exoskeleton suit to move heavy objects 5 days a week has come to expect a certain amount of tech-friendly and tech-forward thinking. As these suits become broadly available, the operators will literally lift and carry loads that would have required two or more people to handle safely. It is no longer prudent to cast technology and scientific advancement as the enemy to piety. In today’s environment, technology can just as easily be the enabler of deeper and more profound faith experiences.
People are suffering at an unprecedented rate during the pandemic. But the church has always done its best work during times of suffering. The Vatican feels the church can help combat the rising violence against women. There has always been violence against women. But the pandemic has intensified it. That means that people of faith have another way to reach out in love and faith to be a light in a community overtaken by darkness.
There are many new opportunities for outreach today than there were two years ago. It just requires a little creativity to recognize and make the most of the opportunities. It is not an occasion for crass opportunism. Rather, it is the ability to see where the needs of the suffering come into alignment with your special abilities to serve. Churches that combine their ministries of service with the communities special needs will be the blessing for which they were planted.
We are torn as a nation, polarized in ways we never thought possible. It is no longer just a matter of racial reconciliation. It is all manner of reconciliation that is needed today. While it is important for congregations to present a unified front, the new mission for the church is to aid their communities to find reconciliation and healing from all that threatens to rip us apart. Families need stability. Neighborhoods need someone who can rise above the us vs. them mentality. Reconciliation might well be the toughest ministry there is. It pushes us to rise above our base instincts and reach for something greater. The churches that can rise to that occasion will be among the churches that are around to serve the next generation of seekers.
There is no magic bullet to protecting your church from the harsh realities of limited members with limited resources. But you increase your chances of forging ahead by embracing technology, creative outreach, and the ministry of reconciliation. Remember, faith is not a zero-sum game. There is always enough to go around.