There has been a bunch of talk about Zombies lately. Zombie Banks, zombie computers, and pranksters up in Carmel, IN had some fun with a construction warning sign (see above). But what about Zombie churches?
United Methodist Pastor and writer Dan Dick just posted this on his blog: “[Zombies] are not an unfair metaphor for a number of mainline Protestant churches. Check the list: lifeless, going through the motions, trying to get new people upon which to feed. It is a pretty stark, but accurate description of a number of decaying churches.”
Ouch. But yeah, sometimes as a United Methodist lay leader I feel a bit like the protagonist in 28 Day later.
Pastor Dan tries to cut short his zombie metaphor though. There is hope for all these declining churches though, he writes, if they can overcome a huge catch-22. To transform you need to get more people (especially younger) folks but the old guard culture/nature of decaying churches is normally and sometimes militantly resistant to the radical change required to transform a dying church.
Church De-Zombie-izaiton: A personal experience
According to the blog 1/2 of all United Methodist churches are in decline. Many of them with a foot in the grave. For the past three years I have been part of a congregaton that fit this description. And Dan Dick’s zombie metaphor is right on!
The church was created out of a merger between two almost dead but historic downtown Indianapolis congregations –Central Ave United Methodist and Lockerbie Square United Methodist. (I’m not sure why the conference would have ever let these two once great ever get into this situation in the first place)
Anyways, the merger made sense on many levels. The churches were about only a mile apart, both had tiny and aging congregations and both had decent, though rapidly dwindling,financial resources. Lockerbie Square had a great young pastor who was new to town and Central Ave had a fairly progressive congregation.
Three years later the merger was can both be considered a massive failure and a great success. There are hardly any members left at the church who were part of the original congregations. (The few who stuck it out and have helped shape the new congregation deserve a ton of credit.) The money is all gone and the pastor quit.
The transformation was hard. Maybe even terrible. The old guard at the churches wanted to keep doing things the old way. The neighborhood freaked out when the church started working with the homeless and the old guard of the church started whisper campaigns and email campaigns about the new direction of the church.
The new people eventually took over the church. They asked hard questions, refused to back down and forced the issue on many subjects and simply outworked/out manuevered the Zombies. When the dust settled (it is probably still settling), All of the pre-merger leaders of the two churches were gone. Most did not even say goodbye (talk about Christian community!!) There are still plenty of hard feelings.
Our church still has a long way to go but it is an exciting and vibrant place and full of participation. Still, if half of UMCs are staring at decline, can there be transformation without this harsh conflict?
I am sure there are many things that could have been done differently. A few conflict resolution sessions would have been helpful.
I have a hunch though that the nastiness of this conflict was ineviatible. Zombies don’t go away quietly.