I saw this short paragraph in my LinkedIn feed a couple of days ago:
“Beyond the few national newspapers that have managed to stabilize their businesses, digitization has devastated the industry, The Wall Street Journal reports. Local publications have seen steeper drops in revenues from circulation and advertising — even outlets that have digitized struggle to turn readers into paying customers. Some 1,800 newspapers have shuttered across the U.S. since 2004. The entire 161-member staff of the Times-Picayune will be laid off after being acquired by a New Orleans competitor.”
This caught my attention. I started wondering if there was something church could learn from this. I’m not sure. Newspapers and church aren’t the same thing, but then again, there are some commonalities.
Congregations, especially small, local congregations have struggled. Many churches have closed over the last decade. I saw one stat claim that between 3,500 and 4,000 churches close each year.
It raises many questions. I just wonder if there is anything in common between newspapers and churches.
Do newspapers decline because they never made the changes that needed to be made early on – but rather only when they were forced to? And by then it was too late? Do they decline because people are used to free content online and once something is free and expected, you can’t charge for it and have it succeed? Is news in general in decline? Is the model of a local paper just outdated? Is it that local news can’t compete with the large outlets?
I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. But I think the same type of questions can be asked of churches. They may sound something like this:
Have there been a slew of church closings because they never made the changes that needed to be made early on? Did the changes come only when they were forced to and by then it was too late? Do they close because people are used to worship being a certain way and expect it that way and so you can’t change it? Are churches in decline in general? Is the current model of a church outdated – as in how it is operated and organized? Does church size matter when it comes to church closures?
Again, I don’t know the answers to these questions. But I think they are worth asking – no matter how uncomfortable the questions might be. I think we need to be open to asking such questions and seeing what the truth really is. And adapt as needed. Living things do that – they adapt. Churches aren’t just institutions. They are movements. They are the living body of Christ. Adapting, changing, and transforming should come naturally. After all, we claim to believe in life, death, and resurrection. And if we really believe it – then it means we are open to change and transformation. And it is in transformation that the church will do what is needed to adapt to the new reality we find ourselves in. And no, larger isn’t better or doesn’t equal a more successful church. Those are just numbers. Changed and transformed lives – that is a much better measurement for the church.