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"A Midlife Crisis for Churches?"
by Tom Goodman
December 22, 2005

Fred Oaks leads an interesting ministry called “Church Over 40,” designed to address the unique needs of churches that have been in existence for 40 years or more.  He contends that churches at this age have only two options: renewal or irrelevance.  His website has some interesting articles.  The following is an excerpt from an article he wrote for Leadership Journal.

We will not publish LeaderLines for the next two weeks.  Have a Merry Christmas!


“Renewing Older Churches”
by Fred Oaks

Church consultant Lyle Schaller writes, “While exceptions do exist, the general pattern is that congregations that have been meeting at the same address for more than forty years tend to give a higher priority to (a) perpetuating the past rather than creating the new, (b) taking care of today's members rather than seeking to reach the unchurched, (c) maintaining the real estate rather than launching new ministries to reach new generations.”  He concludes: “Never before in American church history have there been so many congregations that are vulnerable to this ‘forty-year syndrome.’”

Research indicates that three-fourths of all U.S. congregations are at least forty years old.  Daunting challenges await those of us who would transition long-established churches from decline to health.  Long-established churches can harbor some deadly attitudes and habits that distance them from their surrounding community and swat down fresh ideas like flies in the kitchen.

In 1991 a congregation with 160 years of history called me as pastor.  Starting a new worship service designed to reach unchurched people was one of the most difficult changes our church ever made.  We lost some people over it.  But new people joined us soon afterward.  Some were new to Christian faith; others came to us as Christians who wanted to share in the outreach.

One man told me: “I am middle aged now, and I have been in church all my life.  I want to invest the second half of my life in a church that is reaching lost people.  Your church is doing that, and I believe that God wants me to be a part of it!”

He and his family joined our church and now he co-leads a sermon discussion group each week.  He is using his teaching gift to help pre-Christian people grapple with biblical truth.  He is doing his part to restore the fertility of our congregation's soil.

Our job as leaders is to focus on one overriding concern: restoring the fruitfulness of our churches.  Many long-established congregations have enjoyed wonderful seasons of productive ministry in times past.  Renewal leaders are filled with anticipation that there are more such times to come.  They remember that Jesus said, “My true disciples produce much fruit” (John 15:8, NLT).  And they will not rest until their congregations are producing disciples again.

ChurchOver40 website: www.ChurchOver40.com
This article: www.christianitytoday.com/le/2005/004/4.47.html

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