When a congregation experiences shrinking attendance I wonder and worry about them. Some I have observed lose members and barely “hang on” as a result of clergy abuse that remains unhealed, even after the abuser departs, even many years after the abuser departs. I understand that situation because it parallels the trouble that individual persons experience who have been abused and do not receive recovery help. You, too, may know of women or men, perhaps in their fifties, who have just discovered that they were sexually abused as children but have suppressed it so much that they are not even aware of it. They require excellent counseling to help them towards recovery. There are congregations that parallel that, in my humble opinion.
Other congregations appear to lose sight of their reason for existence within the community. By not meeting the needs of the community there appears little reason for those seeking a church home to join them. A wise priest we had in a congregation many years ago pushed the questions upon us until we provide accurate answers, “What makes us different from any community club in this local area?” and, “How would this community be changed if we were to close?” At first we were hard pressed to present a viable argument and that was quite disturbing.
There is a congregation located near our bricks and mortar store in Seattle that shows one path to vibrant spiritual life. The pastor of Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church, Paul Hoffman, has written a book that has just been published that details the simple yet profound change in direction in his congregation over the past 15 years. They have developed a (very) successful yearlong process of faith mentoring that has become the center of the congregation’s ministry.
Hoffman’s book, Faith Forming Faith, is an easy, yet compelling read. I recommend it.