Faith and Family Business: Consolidation: The Experience of Religious Congregations

By Bill Long on June 4, 2019

One usually doesn't think of the church as providing many lessons to production agriculture.  But if we put our ear  to the ground and realize some stark realities about American churches, we see that challenges they face, often unsuccessfully, in transmitting faith and a lively sense of community to the next generation are mirrored in the farm experience.

Two stories from my personal knowledge illustrate the pressures on churches today.  My niece is marrying a Methodist minister later this year.  He serves not one, but four congregations.  The largest of these has twenty-five worship attendees while the smallest has six.  They are all within a thirty-minute drive of each other.  Might consolidation make sense?  Yes.  Do they want to consolidate?  No way!  The comforts of memory, combined with the difficulty of imagining an alternative scenario, lead many congregations to prefer death to life.

Then, on the other hand, in my commuinty are a number of new church "start-ups."  They all seem to be called things like "Abundant Life"  Church or "Relevant" Church or something similiar.  Stocked with young people who sing choruses unknown to those in the smaller congregations, these newer churches seem to be thriving.  But one wonders if these have sprung up more out of weakness than strength, and whether they will soon face the issues of the four-point Methodist circuit.

The church in our day is, in many instances, not passing down its legacy cussessfully to the next generation.  Issues of community style, of memories attached to a place, of unwillingness to let go of power, of impatience with the pace of change - all of these are perhaps mirrored in the struggle of farm families as they pass down their legacy, and property, to the next generation.  If there is one lesson the church teaches, it is that it is very difficult, but almost always worth it, to pass down the "faith."  Would the farming community say "Amen!"  to that?