As congregations dwindle and money gets tight, many Christian churches are looking for ways to survive. Many have accepted that things will never be as they once were. Religion no longer has a central place in society or in the lives of most individuals. No amount of fundraising or member recruitment efforts is going to change that. Instead, they are looking for creative, and non-traditional, means of survival.
At the Episcopal church I attend regularly, I sat in on a meeting with representatives from other local Episcopal churches to discuss collaborative leadership. Or rather, how congregations who can not support a full-time priest would cope. One solution raised was to find a part-time priest, or split one between two congregations. The issue with this arrangement is that it often is hard on the rector. They are pulled in too many directions with more work than their paid hours cover. Even if the priest manages to take on a reasonable schedule and work load, there is work that will need to be taken on by the congregation. With limited hours the priest is often at capacity providing the sacraments, while other rector duties must be fulfilled by lay people. Distributing this work is often a point of contention and conflict amongst already struggling congregations.
Another, more innovative proposal is to work with other denominations. This may take the form of sharing a building or in some cases even clergy. This allows two congregations to pool their resources to continue their respective traditions. This secular era is forcing religious groups, in this case Protestant Christians, to cross boundaries in the interest of survival. In this context, the boundary of interest has largely shifted from between faiths and denominations to between the faithful and the secular. Secular society has forced the faithful into cooperation, fostering strength rather that division.
The final and perhaps most radical solution, considering the traditions in people’s living memories, is to forgo a physical church and gather without a dedicated building. Instead congregations would meet in public places or in each others’ homes. This tactic breaks down the walls of organized religion and integrates it into other realms of society, breaking down the faithful-secular divide and perhaps discourage secularism altogether.
The second and third solutions discussed here are not only logical for the situation many churches find themselves in, but they also reflect and respond to the air of today. Specifically, these innovative solutions are breaking through the boundaries heavily emphasized by secular society that work to maintain a separate but equal status for different realms of life. Boundaries of public and private are broken down in order to live out every realm of life to the fullest. Boundaries are also broken down between faiths and denominations in response to purely secular ways of life. These themes are not unique to Protestant Christians but evident in many religious groups and spiritual traditions today. The desire to live a more holistic, rather than an over categorized and segregated life leads people of many different faiths down similar paths. These similarities allow them to bond in the face of secular influences.