Dear Partners in Ministry:
Last week I had two interesting online engagements that provided a great deal of food for thought. The first was a conversation with some of our leaders and Scot Lyon, CEO of www.Solace-VR.com. This organization is working to provide resources for ministries to connect with people across the new online spaces. Recognizing that ever more change is coming to our lives and how we connect, share the gospel, and encourage discipleship. This conversation was recorded and can be accessed here:
The second was an online coaching session through the Art of Leadership Academy regarding end of year stewardship emphases. Multiple models of doing end of year campaigns was discussed (much of which is well known). But what struck me was the reality that leaders, across a multitude of denominations, are realizing that ministry sustainability going forward cannot rely on continual fundraising campaigns. Particularly those focused on Sunday morning attendees. Communities are going to need to find ways to fund vital ministries in new ways.
These two engagements were challenging in that they both are pointing towards a future that has exceptional promise but also will require significant adaptation for congregations and for us as synod. We have a great opportunity to reach new people in new ways, but to fund that ministry we also must find new ways towards sustainability. And this is nothing new. For more than a generation now the ELCA has experienced financial support for synodical and churchwide ministry decline in real dollars year over year. This creates challenges as we look to serve our congregations, many of whom are also feeling this stress. It impacts ministries like Briarwood and the leadership center and has generated conversation among synod council and board regarding how to steward the assets of the synod.
My most significant takeaways from these conversations have been that our model of monthly income in and expenses out is not sustainable for the future. All our ministries need to think critically about these realities. Honestly assessing our physical facilities and their needs. If maintaining a physical location is important then are their like-minded organizations with whom you can partner? And ultimately how do our assets enable us to do the primary task of the church, to proclaim Jesus Christ crucified and risen to a broken world and serving our neighbors, working for justice, as disciples of the crucified one?
We trust that the Holy Spirit sustains and calls the church into being. Because we trust that we know that the church has and never will be a building or a bank account. As stewards of God’s abundance then we are called in this time to listen, pray, and be open to the new opportunities God is putting before us. This is challenging work, but it is work we do together.