Bill Easum recently wrote that the pastors who serve churches that have no hope of growth are wasting their time. This sentiment, often repeated by bishops and leaders who should know better, reminds me of Simon Newman, the college president who urged his staff to "drown them bunnies" when they were dealing with a student who may not make it all the way to their four year degree. The assumption of the college president was that his school existed to profitably collect four years of tuition and maintain an excellent rating with their accreditation agency.
Many churches are in conflict today. Often these fights have become abusive, traumatising parish leaders. I can give at least three reasons for why the American church scene has become so rancorous:
1) The steady decline in American church participation has caused us to feel depressed in our church work. Depressed people are risk adverse, passive aggressive, and argumentative.
2) The constant emphasis on church growth and how laity are keeping their pastors from being successful, has made us all feel ashamed. Shame-based cultures shuffle blame around rather than dealing problems in an objective fashion.
Why did Kodak die? The simple answer is that people stopped buying film. Besides the world’s most famous film, Kodachrome, Kodak made darkroom chemicals and papers. Today, when photographs are printed people use inkjets. There are those who would fault Kodak’s leadership with not shifting full time into the digital camera market or becoming a leader in providing paper and ink. This is worst kind of Monday morning quarterbacking. Kodak has enjoyed great leadership. They would need a leader like Harry Potter to take on Canon, Nikon, or Epson.
Paul Simon and I are in mourning for Kodak Kodachrome. It used to be my favorite film. Until the mid-1990s, Kodak was a great stock to own. Jobs at the Kodak plant in Rochester seemed totally secure. The advanced emulsions and darkroom chemicals that Kodak produced were respected worldwide. I don’t shoot much film today. I have begun transferring my favorite Kodachrome slides to digital files. Kodak, itself, is in bankruptcy. Digital photography came along shortly before the new millennium and ate their lunch. This happened even though Kodak was one of the most innovative and best run companies in the marketplace.
The life cycle of a congregation is often described a bell curve, mapping out membership growth over time. Martin F. Saarinen (The Life Cycle of a Congregation -Alban.org), and others, chart how a congregation is born with enthusiasm, has significant yearly growth for a decade or so, enters into a long period of stability, then falls into decline, leading in time to death. My first response to seeing this curve was to ask, what about Canterbury Cathedral? Obviously there are outliers, that is churches whose lifespan is so unexpected that it skews the chart.