"Being The Church Outside The Box "

The National Council Of Churches Headquarters is located at 475 Riverside Drive in New York, N.Y. There have been several church denominations i.e. The United Church Of Christ, Presbyterian Church USA that have also had offices located at this address.
The building has traditionally been referred to as " The God Box " because of its square architectural form.
When people would go visit 475 Riverside Drive or 475 for business, they would say " I'm going to the God Box. "
When I was a student at Princeton Theological Seminary Princeton, N.J. , Miller Chapel would sometimes be referred to as "the God Box " meaning that the architecture and atmosphere was all orderly and uniform.
For the longest time church life reflected this structure. You would have worship on Sunday at a certain time, Sunday School, Choir Practice, Bible Study, Women's Fellowship, Men's Brotherhood Group, etc. would all meet at a certain time.
Now we are seeing different models of doing church. Some groups ,particularly new church starts, are not meeting on Sunday, but instead on Saturday or Friday night. This can accommodate people who are working on Sunday.
Some congregations are providing space for community organizations, parish nurses, food pantries, schools and other programs. Rental fees from such tenants help to assist local church budgets. A church that I was previously affiliated with ( See previous blog " What Do You Do When The Beacon Goes Out ?" and " Beacon Hill Is Bleeding ? ") rented space in their Christian Education building to several artists who had studio loft space.
Currently, I am familiar with two congregations in a major American city that has suffered membership decline. At one time both of these congregations had several hundred members. Now they are lucky if they have 14 or 22 members, including the minister, who attend regular Sunday services. One of these churches has a pipe organ that was acquired several years ago. Both of these churches will probably face the reality of closing unless there is direct proactive action to do something different.
Another church, also in a major American city, has dwindled down to 100 members from several hundred. They have a beautiful physical building and grounds and they are now contemplating marketing their church as a retreat center.
How does the Church become meaningful and relevant in a new way ?
There are those who are now advocating developing " virtual" congregations, providing worship services and other church activities available in a digital format, a " Jesus on line " experience.
This could have lots of possibilities in terms of getting lots of hits on a website, doing fund-raising on line, reaching out to a lot of people who normally wouldn't attend a church.
What is significant, however, is that the experience of watching a worship service on a digital screen
is different from sitting next to someone in a church pew. The socialization experience becomes lost.
Being the church in the twenty-first century and beyond will increasingly become challenging. There will be a great need " to think and act outside the box " in terms of proving worship services, time and location, as well as other church programs.
Congregations, in order to survive and thrive, will have to establish partnerships with social service community organizations, possibly consider mergers with other denominations in order to increase visibility and effectiveness.
This will not be easy nor will it be without pain. Yes, more congregations will probably close their church doors.
The Church has had to make significant changes, in the past, in order to be effective and relevant regarding ministry. This current cycle of further challenge and change will be interesting to witness regarding the ministry of the future.

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