The Legacy Church Project has pilot gathering on June 29-July 1, 2015
Some projections claim as many as 35% of the United Methodist Churches in the US will close in the next 15 years. Each of those churches represents lives and commitments and resources and stories. Each of those congregations has the potential to invest their history and their resources in ways that continue to partner with God in bringing about a better world. Each of them also has the potential to direct every cent and every asset toward their own survival rather than for the mission of the church. The Legacy Church Project is an effort to help churches finish well, dying to self in order that new life may rise for the sake of the mission of the church.
June 29-July 1, representatives from three annual conferences—Cal-Nevada, Rio Texas and Upper New York—gathered in Austin, Texas to launch their own legacy church pilot projects in their respective conferences. Those present were tasked with creating a model, including assembling the right team and designing a business plan, to close churches within their annual conference. This model is not to drain resources—staff, time or money—from the annual conference.* The initial measure of success for these teams will be the creation of a business model and a track record of closing churches.
A National Network Team exists to help resource and connect the three conferences as well as to gather learnings, which can be shared with other annual conferences. The National Team will make contact with each annual conference team every other month to assess progress, to resource as needed and to encourage momentum.
At the end of 48 hours together, participants shared a single word to describe how they felt leaving Austin and heading home to start their work. The words were: ready, planning, on fire, encouraged, and open. These words and the spirit in which they were spoken offer a picture of eagerness and hopefulness that resonated in the room throughout the event.
*One of the significant issues surrounding the closing of churches is that the current process is energy-intensive and falls largely on the District Superintendent, who is severely hampered from forward-looking, strategic action when their time and energy are being diverted, not to mission-focused purposes but rather to closing churches who are most often worshiping less than 20 and have given up on any engagement with their community and the mission of the church.