As I was in the throes of completing my Ph.D., my local synodical bishop asked me to serve part time in a congregation that was failing. He briefly described the situation, and said that my task was to help them close with grace. It was an old German congregation that hadn’t seen any growth in years, and in the recent past, had begun to decline very quickly. In the meantime, the neighborhood demographic had totally changed, so it seemed very unlikely that recovery would be possible.
So we developed a plan, with a timeline, concluding with a celebration of the congregation’s life after 12 to 18 months. I was to re-establish routine worship, initiate Bible studies and other significant community activities, and begin to seek out neighboring congregations to which members could turn when the time came. And so, I began….
But when the bishop called about scheduling the closure service, I said, “I better come in to talk.” He said sure, and we scheduled the meeting. I said to him that things had changed. The congregation was not shrinking; nor was it even maintaining stability….it was growing. We had started a youth ministry, and had two choirs. This wasn’t a congregation that needed to close. Clearly our best laid plans weren’t the right ones.