No one knows how churches will emerge from the COVID-19 crisis. We’ve never had a time when in-person worship is shut down for weeks or even months. Thankfully, early reports show remarkable resilience to social distancing. A Faith Communities Today study of UMC churches in late-April found that 48% report increased attendance with online worship, but at the same time 51% report that giving is down. As social distancing continues the pressure on congregations is likely to increase. For some churches new approaches will be critical for the long-term survival. Collaboration with other churches can free up financial and people resources for mission even when the participating churches face stress, and collaboration can be a way for stronger churches to revive struggling congregations. A ChurchFuture “Church Opportunities Workshop” is a great way for a group of churches in a city or conference to explore all the opportunities available in a non-threatening setting.
Ten options for collaboration are explained on our sister site, www.churchcollaboration.com. We’ve identified case studies for additional options, some of which might work in your setting. These options can stimulate imaginations and point to a thoughtful outcome for each congregation.
The leaders of a United Church of Canada church in Toronto saw that many fellow congregations were facing difficult challenges. They decided to sponsor a Saturday workshop where these congregations could get to know each other and discover brighter options for their future, perhaps in partnership. The Vancouver BC conference heard about this and sponsored a similar discovery workshop for Vancouver churches.
The Minnesota Conference of the United Methodist Church invited smaller urban churches to a workshop that attracted 70 leaders from 15 churches. The Florida-Bahamas sponsored a workshop for the ELCA churches in the Fort Lauderdale area. Forty leaders participated and at least two significant partnerships emerged from that effort. The four ELCA churches in Muskegon, Michigan formed a cluster several years ago but found their efforts disappointing. With help from the synod they engaged Dave Raymond to conduct a Saturday workshop along with joint worship and a forum for members in the local high school auditorium. Out of these efforts came a consolidation plan that these churches successfully implemented within a year.
Dave Raymond from ChurchFuture led or co-led these workshops and with several others. The workshops are based on case studies of congregational collaboration and other successful efforts by congregations. The information is tailored to local circumstances, and the workshop setting gives leaders a chance to know each other better and talk with each other face-to-face. The objective is to provide facts and perspective to help each church decide on its best course for the future. The workshops typically cover four major topics:
- Viable options for congregations in this challenging environment—together or independently
- How churches have identified prospective partners and explored collaboration jointly
- Structuring collaboration for renewal and new vitality
- How to lead congregation members past their reluctance to change into a brighter vision for their future