Just time for a very quick note before bedtime tonight. The course finished this morning, and I was home late afternoon, surprising the children by turning up at the birthday party of one of Rebekah’s friends to see them for the first time.
I’ll confine myself to mentioning the content of our final lecture this morning. This was on the theme of ‘the life cycle of a congregation’, based on the work of George Bullard and others. Roughly, there are eight typical phases in a church’s life (or of a group within a congregation). There are four stages of ascent, and four of descent. As we reflected, it seemed obvious that many Methodist churches are in the final three stages.
While the theory is open to criticism for ignoring certain factors, it still raises difficult and painful questions. Just tarting up existing church life is not an option. Such things only delay inevitable death. The kind of rationalisation going on in major denominations at present (in the case of Methodism, the amalgamation of circuits into even larger ones) is, said our lecturer, like two drunks stumbling out of a pub at closing time. They try to hold each other up, but eventually they collapse to the ground together.
The only serious options are twofold. The first involves facing up to the specific issues that have caused decline, and that means having quite a grasp of a church’s history and then applying lessons from a deeply spiritual perspective. The second is to give the church ‘hospice care’ and look to raise up something different in its place.
If that interests you, I’m sorry this is short and tantalising. Maybe something longer another time.