Church Consolidation: Part 1

After a conversation with a fellow minister in my city (Thomasville, NC) my mind has been stirring about possibilities. Let’s face it Thomasville is not a growing city. After Thomasville Furniture Company, and almost every other industry, decided it was cheaper and easier to make the furniture in China, the city has been hurting for jobs. Our unemployment rate is somewhere around 15%. It is estimated that our population is 25,000, which is 3,750 people out of work in our town.

Within this small city, or I should say zip code, there are 15 United Methodist Churches. Yes, 15. Now some are in the out beyond the city limits so we can take them out and that leaves us with 10. 10 within a 5 mile radius of each other. When I first moved here I given a reason why there were so many close together. Back in the early 1900s when many of these churches started people had to walk to the mills/factories to work. Thus churches sprang up in the neighborhood where these people lived. The church I serve has their original piece of property in rock tossing distance from two factories. (that is an actual measurement of distance, it just depends on who is throwing the rock) However we got where we are today, the truth is there are 10 churches within the city of Thomasville, but the question was raised does Thomasville need 10 United Methodist Churches?

Now this is a loaded question because what it does is automatically set up tons of questions. What churches should hang around? If you ‘consolidated’ some where would they be consolidated to? Would you simply shut some down and ask them to find other UM Churches to join? How many should be left open? What is the right number for our area? Then what do you do with the land/buildings/grave yards/parsonages, etc?

With these questions in my head I decided to do some research on these 10 churches within my zip code and tally up some stats. In the last five years (the stats referred to are between the years 2004-2008) there has been 58 less people worshiping in these congregations, that is -58. Some have seen growth in their average attendance, the highest being 39 additional worship attendees and the lowest being a -43. These are hard numbers to judge because my own church has seen a -8 turn in the last years but I personally know that during my time (starting mid 2007) I have kept detailed stats on worship attendance and the previous minister did not, so the 95 we averaged in 2004 is simply a guess. This may or may not be the case in other congregations and when I looked at the numbers I could tell that some where a little cushy.

These 10 churches have seen a net total of 67 new members over that same time period. The highest church received 58 more members and the lowest losing 18. The cause of this is tenuous but by looking at the stats provided it looks like death is a huge cause. One congregation lost 49 members to death and that was almost 10% of their membership. Others lost 12% of their membership and the lowest was 4%. If you are getting the sense here, many of these are aging congregations.

There is also some other interesting stats. The estimated salary for senior ministers (doesn’t include other staff or associates) in 2008 is $526,000 and the cost of healthcare and pension for 2010 (estimated off my personal amount) is $220,528. The cost of the senior ministers for these ten churches is estimated at $746,528. Three quarters of a million dollars between these ten churches go towards the senior minister and that minister’s benefits.

I do know some of the churches out there are not making it or if they are the conference apportionments are hurting because of it. In 2008 the average percentage of apportionments paid between these 10 churches is 66%. One church didn’t pay any apportionments and only two churches paid out at 100%. What this means is there are churches out there who cannot make their obligations and by looking at the stats some of them have not been doing so for years now. No wonder our conference has to make cuts every year and have people do two or three different job titles for the conference.

After looking at these numbers I am wondering if we are looking at only three different options for the churches within Thomasville. 1) Just let some churches die whether through euthanasia or by natural causes in the next 5-10 years, 2) Consolidate some churches and create a new church from these congregations, one that can and 3) Do nothing

The unwritten facts are, Thomasville doesn’t need 10 United Methodist Congregations anymore. We have cars and we can travel. The closest UMC is not even the one I serve! When you add up all the other churches too, Baptist, Wesleyans, Presbyterians, Church of God, etc. there are TONS of churches all competing of the 14% of Thomasvillians that is only who wake up and attend church on a regular basis, which is less than are out of work in the city. How will the UMC survive in this town and should we? Part II to come.

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