A new season for church ministry

"What is the future of our congregation? Where is the Holy Spirit leading us?"

Photo by Josh Eckstein on Unsplash

Perhaps God’s future is renewal and transformation in this new season.

For the last decade, the Presbyterian Foundation has partnered with about 1,100 congregations as they have pondered Christ’s call. Through Project Regeneration, a team of ministry relations officers across the country assists sessions and church leaders as they think through their future.

Olanda Carr, senior ministry relations officer, has been deeply touched by opportunities to help churches. “Walking alongside congregations is a spiritual, meaningful journey as they face the next chapter,” said Carr.

He points to the Christ-centered heart of the relationship as the most important thing. “The key is praying and listening to the Spirit,” Carr said. “Thinking about the future is a spiritual exercise from start to finish.”

The Presbyterian Foundation works closely with church leaders, in tandem with their presbytery, to guide the congregation through a season of prayer and honest reflection. The core of the experience is not the nuts and bolts of buildings and budgets, but listening carefully for God’s guidance. The process invites a deep consideration of the months and years ahead.

Sometimes the path leads to a decision for the church to continue with its present structure. Other times there is a merger with another congregation. Or a decision to close.

Dissolving a church is a painful choice. In such a season, the ministry relations officer encourages each congregation to listen to the stories of its members — memories of baptisms, weddings and funerals and the cherished impact of community programs.

Such congregations are encouraged to discover the ways their ministries can continue. Carr tells the story of one church that decided to close: “They worked with the presbytery to sell the property and then invested the assets in a permanent fund with the Foundation,” Carr said. “The proceeds from that investment, year after year, will support three beneficiaries that reflect the ministry passions of the former congregation.”

Through Christ-centered planning, renewal can be achieved, even as a congregation dies.

Sometimes Project Regeneration takes a far different form. For instance, Carr sometimes works with a congregation located in a building and accompanying lot far larger than needed. He assists the session as the elders and pastors explore possibilities and evaluate several options with development partners.

This is important work. The most recent statistics from the Office of the General Assembly reveal that about 41% of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations have 50 members or less. Many of our beloved churches will face these queries in the years ahead.

Paul Grier, vice president of the Presbyterian Foundation, has participated in many Project Regeneration partnerships. “The foundation serves as an advisor, sounding board, and coach,” Grier said. “We act as an unbiased third party in helping the church as it discerns its future.” It is a tender time for any congregation. “We are steadfast in our commitment not to steer church leaders to a specific path of action,” he added. “We do not offer unrealistic expectations of likely success. We do not presume to offer answers as much as facilitating the asking of questions.”

Pastors and elders express gratitude for the partnership of the Presbyterian Foundation. At every turn, the Foundation strives to walk with church leaders during a time of discernment as they explore what God calls them to do and be.