Less Pubs to Stabalize Others

Tonight I was listening to the president of the local CAMRA group (a group encouraging the sale of ‘real ale’ and to saving the British pub).  While many have been bemoaning the 36 or so pubs that close every week (I think), he said that honestly he thought that a few more might actually need to close.  He gave the example of his town where there are 16 pubs, 5 are closed, and likely 4 more need to close.  That way the village could actually sustain the 7 or 8 that would be left.

Standing beside a minister friend of mine (who is from the URC), she and I looked at one another and obviously had the same thought. So, I said it – maybe this guy should come and speak to our churches.  This does seem to be a parable of sorts for our churches.

I have found that here in Great Britain (and from what I encountered in the US), closing churches is not wanted on the agenda.  We refuse to stop and look around and ask the questions about whether or not a church is needed in a given area; questions about resources spread too thin, other churches in the area (even if not of our denomination), and why we feel that church is needed (and question why we yeild to those who simply want it to be there because it always has).

This has been on my mind recently as the connexion wants to look at what is sometimes called ‘Super Circuits’. It takes existing circuits and then combines them. I have heard others say (and indeed said this myself) that this sounds like another desperate attempt to save the institution, but more or less keeps things the same and adding another layer of management (the old circuits then become sections – each with a leader while creating a ‘super circuit’ superintendent).  I would not mind the idea of ‘larger circuit boundaries’, but I don’t favour simply combing circuits as is.  With increasing retirement and decreasing numbers of people offering for the ministry, adding that to the issues of resources spread thin in a local area, I see this continuing the trend of putting more work on ministers and then adding them to a larger geographical area.

I think it’s time, no matter how difficult the issue is, that we truly investigate how many buildings we need and how we might consolidate our resources to work for the kingdom of God.

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10 thoughts on “Less Pubs to Stabalize Others

  1. In response to the Pubs analogy I think it is also interesting how some pubs deal with a reducing number of customers, some of which choose to cater for a specific group of customers. In one area it seems to becoming more common to find one pub aiming for the family market by offering food and play facilities while another aims for the traditional market by offering a more relaxed atmosphere with good quality drink. Dare I even mention the “trendy wine bar”.

    Maybe with the reduction in membership within churches it is necessary to approach the problem from a business perspective with the questions “who are our customers and what do they need?” I would even go so far as to ask if the traditional church building with its Sunday server is now the best solution we can offer our ever evolving communities.

  2. I don’t know about where you live, Will, but out here the reality is that neither churches nor ministers can do effective mission because all our time, energy and money is put into keeping existing buildings going.

    If the existing buildings stay, then congregations can stay within the comfortable group of people that they feel safe with and we can see our elderly members out in the manner which they imagined they would be seen out.

    And while we are all nice and comfortable we’ll bemoan the fact that new people don’t want to get up early every Sunday morning to invest two to three years moving from ‘stranger’ to ‘member’ within our comfortable clubs.

    (Caveat: This rant has been brought to you by yet another crisis in one of my churches.)

  3. Sorry for double-post. I have a thought on Tim’s ‘market segmentation’ comment.

    I’m not sure that churches’ closing is analogous to pubs closing. However, I do believe that we are both suffering from the increased privatisation of life.

    However, food and alcohol are two ‘products’ that most people want. Sure, pubs face competition from supermarket beer and restaurants and other forms of diversion, but people still want to buy food and beer.

    The problem in our culture is that people no longer want the church’s ‘product’. There are those, of course, who say that it’s the job of the church to make people want our product and that ministers are failures if we can’t. However, I’m not convinced of this.

    If one were looking at this from those beloved business models, a business would say: ‘Our industry is a declining industry with limited demand; we might pick up random demand here and there, but basically demand is shrinking. Given that as fact, who are our loyal customers and how can we best serve them? Given that we have over-capacity and need to reduce it, where would our capacity be best placed to serve our existing customers?’

    Where the business analogy falls down for the church is that ‘successful’ business managers would normally diversify into other, higher growth areas of business – something that it’s not appropriate for the church to do.

  4. May be God is pruning back ready for new growth? ( these are not my words but the Revd Mark) and think he may have a strong point there

  5. Thanks for your comments, everyone. While I agree to a certain extent with Pam that we cannot simply transfer business solutions wholesale, I do think there could be overlap somewhere. There are things we can learn, even if we do not use the language of customers and products. We do need to hear what ‘language’ people use and approach them with the gospel in ways they can hear it (much like advertisers do to attract people to their product, but we aren’t trying to ‘sell’ them).

    Our district has tried a version of what Tim mentions with the segmentation approach. I was initially in favour of this, but have since thought that this was just another attempt to keep the circuit running more or less as is. In other words, we would get to keep all our churches, but they would focus on different areas. Harder to do in practice, and I have heard little of this push lately. I think largely because of what Pam mentions in her first post…

    The situation is similar here to what Pam mentions. Most of our time (and money) is spent on the building. This is one of the ways I meant by spreading our resources too thinly. I have good people with gifts that are not used because of time spent on the building. As the ‘odd jobs’ generation grows older, I find my churches with less people with the gifts that enabled a church to run with little need for calling in experts for light jobs. The buildings are becoming albatrosses around our necks.

    Mike, I think Mark is onto something here. But, as I mention the Connexion is still too adverse to this idea.

    What I like about the pub analogy is not so much the business connections, but this guy was someone who seemed to hold a minority position. At least I heard no agreement with him, and one outright disagreement. The group nationally appears that it is trying to quit pub closures and here was someone making an alternative argument against the prevailing mood.

  6. Pam and Will (and Tim) – Tim is new to our Circuit, where we have been making drastic changes in recent years. We have closed several churches and integrated the members into nearby churches. My church welcomed the members from Henley and one of our church stewards came to us when Whiltey Hall was closed, Two large Victorian churches some distance apart but on the same road were closed and a new church (formed from the two congregations) was built as part of a new building project with a new supermarket, etc.

    Then we have churches that have given up their buildings (and, in a couple of cases, have never had a building!) and are continuing to worship in schools or in other ways. One of the most recent examples is one of the churches to which Tim has come as Minister! You would have found a very different Circuit several years ago, Tim!

  7. Hi Olive! Thanks for the comment. Just one word – it’s a different Tim Moore (I know two – one of whom you know!).

    It does sound like your circuit is making a lot of changes. Perhaps we are slower in the North!

  8. That’s just as well, will, because I was too hasty in my last comment because i was called away to get some boxes of apples out of my garage for the church to sell in our Autumn Fair today and, while I was doing that, I realised that I had confused the two most recent ministers in our Circuit! So, having dealt with the apples, I was rushing to change my comment – it is Andy moffoot who has the recently closed building for one of his churches, not Tim Moore!

  9. Olive, I think that what your circuit has done is one of the things that needs to be done but I suspect that it’s an incredibly difficult thing to do, for all sorts of reasons.

    I do wonder whether it would be helpful for circuits that need to close churches to get advice from those who have done so successfully (I mean without major blame-placing and ‘civil war’).

  10. Pam, Our Circuit would be very glad to help others to carry through these decisions to close or merge with sensitivity, because they are never easy or without tears, but ‘joy comes in the morning’. If there is the courage to stick to the decision, it is like childbirth – you endure the pain for the joy that you know will come with the new birth. So you have to be able to give all the people the vision of how wonderful, how much better, it will be in the end.

    I can understand how people feel so strongly about their church because it’s their roots that we are talking about. In my own case, I cannot take anyone to the church where I grew up and was married up in the North-West because it is now long gone and has made way for a block of flats. In the same area, the little church up in Teesdale that I loved to visit when our family concert party went there to help them raise funds is now a tourist centre near High Force. I used to be able to say to people that the caretaker’s house next to the Oxford Road church here was where I spent my wedding night, as we stopped over on our way to honeymoon in the Isle of Wight, but bot the house and the church have been pulled down. I once thought that it would be good to revisit the church in Southport where I helped with Sunday School and Girls’ Brigade and heard the call to preach, but that has gone to. So where are my ‘roots’ ? Visually they are ALL gone, but there are still a few – very few now – photographs and, much more lasting, there are memories of people and events like the Cliff College campaigns. (I also discovered this September that the little Methodist church that nurtured my father in his young days is now a one-roomed dwelling for someone.)

    So I have learnt that my roots are not in the chapel buildings of long ago but in the faithful witness of the people – the church – who passed on their faith to the next generation. Times have changed and I believe that Methodism has moved forward and is still doing so, despite those who see only closures and decline. It depends how you look at it! You know, ‘to some the glass is half empty and to others the glass is half full.,

    On the subject of super Circuits, I believe we have managed to come up with a very good alternative in creating ‘Fourward’, an initiative that enables four neighbouring Circuits to work together for such things a straining projects and I, for one, find these events very encouraging. It is because we had this arrangement that we were able this September to welcome an American ministerial couple to srve in adjacent Circuits. (By the way, Will, there is a lovely story of their little 2 year old and the Communion service on http://lifeattheriverbank.blogspot.com)

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