In conversation with some friends in London recently I heard of three local churches that appear in real danger of serious decline. Located within a few hundred yards of each other, one has a superb building complex but only around 15 elderly people in the congregation. They share a minister with one of the other churches (of the same denomination) which has an adequate building and a reasonable size congregation but without a lot happening. The third church (belonging to another, but very similar denomination) has a fairly strong ministry team, quite a lot happening, but a building that is not very suitable. A pooling of resources could result in a very good building, a fairly large congregation (easily accommodated), a broad ministry team and, from the sale of the other two buildings, enough money to finance outreach and ministry for years to come. Of course we know it won’t happen, but why not?
Any business that had three branches which functioned on a similar basis to the three churches would of course go bankrupt very quickly. Based no doubt on a desire for profit the business would almost certainly consolidate its assets, subordinating the discomforts of change to the overriding aim of making money.
Churches are not motivated by profit and neither should they be, but surely we should ask the question as to what might actually be the motivation that would enable them to subordinate the discomforts of change to work for the greater good of God’s kingdom. That is of course assuming that we do believe that it is for the good of the kingdom to utilise resources in the best possible way, rather than being plainly inefficient and in danger of death.
The strange thing is, that if each of us were to be asked whether we put the kingdom as our priority, we would probably say yes, whilst however maintaining practices that to an outside observer, may appear to plainly contradict that.
An exercise that might be provocatively helpful to us would be to actually put down on paper the benefits that accrue to the kingdom of God by remaining separate compared to the benefits of working together. It is the sort of things that businesses do, but I suppose that some of us would consider that too worldly.