Archive for ◊ February, 2017 ◊

• Friday, February 17th, 2017

When Finishing with Grace: A Guide to Selling, Merging or Closing Your Church was first published in 2011, we knew it was more leading edge than many in denominational leadership wanted to acknowledge. On one hand we received kudos for a well-written and thought-provoking book. But then we heard: “We have no problem of closings in our denomination. No way. No worries.”

That was then. This is now.
In June 2016,The Huffington Post reported that “Turnout in the United Church of Christ has dropped below a million; the Episcopal Church estimates its population at 1.8 million, down from three million in the 1960s; membership in the Presbyterian Church, USA, fell by 46 percent from 1965 to 2005 and the United Methodists have lost 4.5 million in their American churches since 1964. Recent surveys tell us that even in churches that are not closing, attendance is rapidly declining.”

Finishing with Grace is now more relevant than ever for congregations, lay leaders, clergy and judicatory personnel dealing with churches in transition.

Some decisions to close churches come from a church hierarchy, as in the many Roman Catholic churches closings in recent years. Other congregations find themselves running out of money, recovering from pastoral betrayal, or living in a rapidly aging, less-wealthy congregation.

Finishing With Grace does not advocate the closing of churches, but teaches congregations who are without other options how to move through this time faithfully. The book chronicles the process of making life-altering changes in your congregation and provides guidance for approaching the spiritual and emotional aspects of having to sell, merge or conclude your church‘s ministry. It offers practical help for dealing with your church’s building, staff, money and belongings. Vignettes highlighting specific events experienced by the authors are included as well.

Our book offers congregations a framework for the tasks before them, as well as the assurance that they are not alone.

Those in positions of leadership know better than anyone what a toll this is taking on faithful committed Christians who are desperately striving to keep their little church open and actively in service to the world.

The time for Finishing with Grace is now. Available from

Linda and Gretchen




• Saturday, February 04th, 2017

Encore Blog: Author: Gretchen

I was in a day-long training session at a ministry program titled “Options for Struggling Congregations.” As usual, my presentation included a number of stories about my own experience in churches, as well as the stories you, our readers, and others share with us because of this blog. What I have learned is that people love stories. People love hearing narratives that draw them in on a personal level. They enjoy hearing about people just like them who are struggling with the exact same issues they are.

As my day progressed, I was struck anew by the power of sharing our own stories. Not just me telling them when I was speaking, but during our breaks, we all spent time just telling stories related to something that was being taught.

One woman was the pastor of a church that was having their final service the following Sunday. An interim colleague was frustrated in a congregation who won’ t consider the kind of changes that might keep their church alive. Another fellow told the story of his former church building being bought by MacDonalds. We could give context to our own similar experiences or find a new way to understand what we were going through by telling our stories. Each of us saw ourselves in these accounts. We could hear the pain of the storyteller and offer our support. Stories often speak to our greatest joy or our greatest fears. We like hearing how it ended for other people. We are comforted by hearing that it all worked out okay and we are strengthened by hearing about someone else’s strength when it didn’t.

It is very cool how the blogosphere invites us to share our stories. In our comments section, we often read the accounts of pastors and churches who have encountered the challenges we discuss here. More often, we will get an email from a congregation who is struggling and wishes to share their story and ask for guidance. These stories are often the beginning of building relationships.

Jesus was a storyteller extraordinaire. He taught with parables and drew people closer to him with storytelling. Likewise, you and I share our faith with the stories from our lives, and we grow in confidence by sharing those events with others. When a congregation is facing challenging times, that’s the time to get out the church histories and begin rediscovering the congregation’s stories. That is when people should come together to speak of their own very personal experience of faith and their relationship with their church. That is when we should become storytellers like Jesus, because our story is God’s story, and God’s story is ours.