“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: 2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; 3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 7 a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” [Ecclesiastes 3:1-8]
This afternoon I posted some photos on Instagram of the local Christian Science Church, which will join a number of other churches in the area by closing its doors and selling their property. As the current interim Organist, I’ve had a front row seat to the decisions and the process of closing this congregation.
Similar stories abound in the South Hills neighborhoods of Pittsburgh and across the nation. The purchase of a Methodist Church by a Buddhist group; the lingering For Sale sign on a church property and the long list of available church buildings for sale tell the story of an era gone by.
The histories are eerily similar, with tales of full congregations, a need for police assistance to direct traffic and then declining membership, decreasing funds and eventually a handful of members are left to make what are often gut-wrenching decisions.
As traditional religions struggle to find their way in the post-modern world, the disposal and transition of properties that were once symbols of a presence and stature in the community are happening with increasing regularity.
Many of the people in the remaining organizations wring their hands and ask why they’re not attracting more members, visitors or even transient, curious onlookers. While the reasons are likely as numerous as the closings, there are a few consistent themes that continue to emerge, regardless of denomination or creed.
Just this week, the Southern Baptists had a power struggle end with previously-unimaginable results: the old-timers, the traditionalists in the denomination ran against the new guard and lost, garnering less than 30% of the delegate votes.
When the Southern Baptists turn against the tide of tradition, it’s time to sit up and take notice.
I’ve written a number of blogs on the issues facing New Thought Centers and Churches that are struggling to move past a handful of regulars and grow back into the organizations that their core remembers from “the good old days”. In ‘A New Era of New Thought‘ I quote comments by a writer and New Thought member that echo what is being mumbled in churches everywhere, and in Millennials and the Spiritual Disconnect I address the issue of authenticity and how the offerings of the late 20th century are simply not interesting to the power-drivers in today’s world – the 20 and 30-somethings.
The New Thought centers that are thriving have a look, feel and ENERGY that is very different from the struggling ones, and I think that a very large piece of their success is that as soon as you walk in the door, their surroundings answer the question on the mind of most millennials:
“What can you do for me?”
I know more than a few people who would give me a deer-in-the-headlight look and then go into an explanation of how classes help teach people about Ernest Holmes, and that Practitioners are always available for Treatment,… and in that moment I know that they have no idea what I’m trying to explain.
We live in an instantaneous culture. No one wants to take an 8-week class to figure out which class to take next to provide them some insights into what can help them – they want some help, and they want it NOW – or they aren’t interested. And the Centers/Churches that I’ve visited that are overflowing on Sunday morning or Wednesday evening get this in a big way.
They have facilities that are open, bright, airy and welcoming. They bring their A-game and are PREPARED when people show up on Sunday morning. Their speakers are engaging and interesting, and their services are energetic and uplifting. You leave these Centers feeling a spiritual “high” that helps heal the burdens that have piled on from life in the past week.
In his blog, New Thought Evolutionary, Jim Lockard recently wrote:
“Newly emerging leadership must be systemically different than what came before. In other words, trying to imitate your teacher(s) who successfully built a spiritual community in the past is futile. If they were here today, and did the same things they did then, they would not be successful the way they were in their time. It is a different world now.”
The world is indeed, a very different place today. The organizations and leaders who understand this will be around for some time to share the wisdom of Ernest Holmes and others. Those who cling with all their might to old paradigms, and “the way we’ve always done it” will walk the hard paths being trod by others in declining congregations.
Indeed there is a time for every purpose under heaven.
I can think of no better close than to quote Jim Lockard again – this time from his post on Harv Bishop’s site:
“The leadership needed now and going forward include more conscious, evolutionary leaders who are intuitively wise and deeply compassionate, and unattached to form. Why is leadership so important? Because some cherished forms are going to have to be released, and some newly emerging forms are going to have to be embraced – and we may not all be willing to go out onto the skinny branches of transformative change. We will need leaders to inspire and empower us as necessary.
No one knows what new models will emerge, but we must become effective conduits for their emergence. I advise my coaching and consulting clients to take on new things, but to label everything as a “pilot project.” If it works, continue it, if it does not, release it. I also suggest having innovation and transparency as core values of spiritual organization and community. To truly value the essential nature of the changing world in which we find ourselves – change must be welcomed and there can be no secrets. Our path forward is one of transformation, which is deep and abiding change, the kind of change which requires letting go of great swaths of the past and moving through discomfort.
The good news is that you cannot be better equipped to enter this emerging future. New Thought principles and practices are more than sufficient to the task. The question is, how many of us will use them effectively to allow us to thrive through the coming transformations and beyond?”
The season for some is Spring while others are deeply entrenched in the latter days of Autumn with nary a provision to survive the coming Winter (there’s a Game of Thrones metaphor in here somewhere).
How many of our struggling New Thought organizations will have the strength/grit (or good sense/wisdom) to make the hard decisions so they can navigate the new seasons ahead?
Only time will tell.
(C) 2018 Practitioner's Path