Faith Communities Today
New Fact Information
The majority of Adventist members in the United States are less excited about the future of their congregation than are the members of other faith groups in the same geographic area. The difference is not statistically significant among respondents who say it is “quite” true that members are excited about the future of their local church, but Adventist congregations are significantly less likely to say this is “very” true of their local church. Adventist local churches are also significantly more likely to report this is only “somewhat” or “slightly” or “not at all” true of their local church.
This information comes from research done as part of the Faith Communities Today (FACT) survey.
Clearly a number of Adventist congregations are excited about their future, while at the same time there is a significant problem with local churches that are concerned or discouraged about their future. This includes at least four kinds of situations:
1. There are a large number of Adventist churches in small towns and rural areas in the interior of America with no history of growth in recent years and limited prospects. More and more Americans are migrating to the metropolitan areas and the coastal regions, leaving the small towns of the interior to dry up and die at an alarming rate. Throughout the post-WW II era, agriculture has become less labor intensive and more productive, requiring fewer and fewer farmers. A whole generation of Adventist farm families sent their children off to academy and college in the 1950s and 1960s, and those children are raising the grandchildren in or near the metropolitan areas of the Sunbelt. Very few of the third generation are working in agriculture.
2. A significant number of Adventist congregations located in the suburbs and nearby towns of the metropolitan areas feel that the traditional methods of evangelism used by the church for more than 100 years are stalled today. And, they do not see the denomination providing them the kind of support that they feel they need to figure out new ways to grow and thrive. These are often “white collar” churches with many families where both husband and wife are employed in business and professional careers that are quite demanding and stressful. They want their local church to have the staffing necessary to provide top-quality ministries for children and youth, as well as community services they can be proud to tell their work associates about. Yet it seems that “all the money goes to the conference and we don't get enough to have a strong local program.” Some of these congregational leaders have ambivalent or even negative feelings about conventional methods of evangelism, in part because they do not see their unchurched friends and acquaintances responding. They want something new, something more relational and contemporary. “Friendship evangelism” sounds right, but they are not sure they are being shown how it works and that it works well or in a way that can be revved up by church boards voting more money or specific objectives. They are concerned and feel a lack of progressive leadership from the denomination's administration.
3. Some urban churches are caught in particular situations that create concern for their future. In some cases, immigrant churches are finding that migration patterns are changing due to political and economic trends over which they have no control. In other cases, the neighborhood where the church is located is changing. There are relatively few of these situations, but those congregations caught up in such dynamics are, of course, deeply dismayed.
4. In some congregations internal dynamics are discouraging regardless of whether or not the community seems ripe for evangelism and church growth. Small churches can experience a sharp decline simply because one or two families have to move away or deal with a family crisis. Church fights can leave deep wounds and make the congregation feel that it has little or no future. The impact of unresolved conflict or a deep sense of loss that has never been adequately dealt with may last for many years. When there is a crisis in a congregation, there is typically a time of turmoil and efforts to get help. Later, it is typical for a congregation to become exhausted and apathetic. A new pastor or new lay leaders may move in and attempt to revive things, and never fully understand why the church is so “dead.” Succeeding waves of new leaders may become discouraged and begin to label a congregation as hopeless. Over time a defeated church becomes the habitual pattern in these situations. Depending how long things have gone on and how painful the original crisis was, even major surgery may not bring healing if someone comes along with the courage to engage in such a traumatic intervention.
Some possible discussion questions for your church board, Sabbath School class, or other group.
1. How well does the following statement describe our congregation (very well, quite well, somewhat, slightly or not at all)? ”Members are excited about the future of our congregation.”
2. What are some of the factors that are contributing to the feelings (positive and/or negative) of members about the future of our church?
3. Which factors are most crucial to the future of our church?4. What can we do to strengthen and support the positive factors? What can we do to resolve or mitigate the negative factors?
New FACT Information, Center for Creative Ministry