Telling a New Ministry Story: Seeing the Empty Spots on the Map

So, if you feel called to ministry, but not in a traditional fashion, this post is for you. It’s also for you, if you are sick of the current ministry choices and want something else.

Ministry Context

Given the recent election, I’ve been thinking a lot about maps. There’s the map of the country painted in red and blue. There’s a map of Florida, where the recount is taking place in some counties, at least as of this writing. And, then, there’s a map of UCC ministry, that I’ve never seen and only imagined.

It’s this last map that I want to talk to you about.

It’s a map of the places where churches used to be.

I know this map well, because I drive through parts of it everyday where I live here in New England. There was a time when each town had a Congregational Church. Each town had one, because, history tells us, they needed to have one to be an official town. No town. No church. But, not anymore.

Every Thursday, I drive by such a church that stopped being a church years ago. I’ve heard snatches of the history over the years. You know the story; attendance shrank, money dwindled, and a nasty fight. Now, the building’s still there, the suppers still go on, but the worship congregation is long gone.

Call these the empty spots on the map. (Apparently, 111 spots between 2012 and 2015.)

(Of course, in all honestly, many of these “empty spaces” are not devoid of churches. They are just places where the historically established church is missing.)

My point is that these are places where there is opportunity for some new leadership.

I believe the UCC needs to admit that many of its small local churches will not come back and will continue to close. Sure, there will always be some thriving small local churches, but these will be the outliers. It’s now time to invest resources more clearly in telling new church stories.

Here’s your how to.

A New Founding Myth

Telling a new ministry story means discerning what God is calling you to do.

I propose you embrace that idea of story and storytelling fully. Look at the stories: the novels, the news items, the tv shows, the youtube videos that make your soul sing and really explore them. Be inspired.

Then, be delighted to discover some very smart people have already thought about how to tell new stories.

First: Then. Pop on over to DIY MFA and download her mini course.

(Read more about where she’s coming from in this Forbes piece.)

Use her outline for finding good content, thinking about community, and developing your skills to begin thinking about how you might start to tell a new founding story.

(Because, every human endeavor has a founding myth.)

Second: decide on the type of story you want to tell. Remember, we’re in the missing pieces of the map, so to speak. Look for the s

Need some inspiration? Look at this great list of how-to-write books and decide what story you might want to tell.

Here are some examples of ministries you might tell.

  • Historical Fiction: Small rural community. Get to know the history of your area. Decide what might fit, by determining what used to fit. Look around at the former glory and then tell a story that incorporates that history into the story you’re telling. Ministry means retelling and exploring a community identity.

 

  • Horror: Not the most obvious choice, certainly, but consider the ghosts we have in our society. Ghosts being code for anything that should be dead, but keeps going. Racism. Sexism. Historical terriblenesses. Ministry means ghostbusting.   

 

  • Memoir: Nursing home. Make the community you found be about making spiritual sense of a well-lived and confusing time. Think of all the great opportunities to engage in real adult education. Ministry means meaning making.

 

Third: begin to tell the story. Either in your current context or to people you know. Seek the resonances. And, then meet to talk over some coffee with like-minded folks. And, rinse and repeat.

My point: too often ministers, and people of faith, look for answers in the same old places. I think this blog is about expanding the resources you have to do the work you need to do. There are many, many resources for perspective authors. (Nanowrimo, anyone?) This takes some imagination, but I believe the time has come for ministry leaders to be inspired to tell new stories. I urge you to use them to consider how to start telling a very old story – a baby, a savior, a God – in a new way.

 

Thanks for reading.

Jeremiah RoodRev. Jeremiah Rood lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Amanda, and two small black cats. He has experience working in local congregations but most recently has turned his attention to building an active online ministry at www.revjeremiahrood.com. Rev. Jeremiah’s ministry also includes spending a year in a detox working with struggling addicts and alcoholics. His time is now split between writing a book exploring these issues and working in a local public library.

2 thoughts on “Telling a New Ministry Story: Seeing the Empty Spots on the Map

  1. Jeremiah, David, I suggest you stop driving by such places are stop and talk to the folk or at least start listening to those of us that literally been crying out in the wilderness since at least the 1980’s to try and draw attention to these places you call empty, only to be told no one really wants to talk to us because the approved images of these places have little in common where the real church exists. I can’t believe urban areas don’t have poverty, even though I know statistically rural populations have a higher percentage living in poverty. I know rural areas like the one I live has many Native Americans living in it and rural areas are attracting a lot of Latinos and Hispanics because of jobs in modern agribusiness. Aren’t their racial issues where you live? Seriously at a national gathering several years ago where rural and urban clergy and lay folk were invited to come and talk with each other, the rural folk were told by the urban folk that they weren’t going to talk to us because we didn’t have anything in common to talk about! Tell me what Gospel do you folks believe in there?
    Here in a real literal “empty Spot”, ( Look at the true northern Minnesota 6ix hours north of the Twin Cities on the Canadian border where Muslims seek across snow cover fields to reach Canada) you will find three small struggling UCC congregations served by a 70 year old pastor, who drives 140 miles plus, each weekend to provide services, year round, and tries to help them, find new ways to continue to provide a “Progressive Voice” across this empty space. The biggest threat to continuing this ministry is finding qualified clergy willing to come here and serve and help them find their voice. And the story is the same across a lot of empty spaces in America and there are some great stories of courage and faith in places like the empty space of South Dakota and North Dakota of both European heritage congregations and Native American Churches but you need to get out of your airliners and off the turnpikes to find them.
    I’ve said before I know it is easier to curse the darkness then try and help keep the glimmer o little lights burning. These congregations know their history. Those three congregations I mentioned before started by one man and his wife, who in the earliest years of the 20th century didn’t change her name when she was married can take you to her grave they tend and show you the house he lived in-if but come and ask.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The reason progressive churches, including most UCC churches, are closing is that cannot articulate why someone should attend church. When I ask progressive leaders in the church I attend, they cannot articulate their beliefs. They say things like being a Christian means “walking in the footsteps of Jesus”. But that can mean whatever a person wants it to mean. If you ask an evangelical, what being a Christian means, they can clearly explain it – All humankind has sinned and will spend eternity separated from God unless they personally accept the forgiveness of sinned offered by Jesus Christ.

    Liked by 1 person

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