Is reconfiguration moving chairs, adjusting slots—or building new possibilities for relationship? What is it doing more: destroying or creating a life-giving culture? Religious communities, parishes, and much else in church life have been in processes of reconfiguration over recent years. In many cases reconfiguration is said to be a way to reclaim a missional, charism-driven focus. Yet above all it seems driven by numbers and resources, with the usual thinking that reducing structures or amalgamating them somehow leads to net savings. Such structural thinking can, unwittingly, ignore community and community culture even while claiming to value these things. A simple accounting might suggest that merging parishes or religious communities or combining provinces or congregations into one will save money and related resources. Culture and community, however, are both the currency and the engine driving religious entities. When cultures are damaged or weakened in clumsy amalgamations, the losses can be much greater than mere dollars and cents. Instead of “right-sizing” we might unintentionally provoke spirals of decline. As people exit, voting with their feet, or simply stay in place yet are disengaged, mission-driven organizations can face great weaknesses and losses, even irreparable ones. The greatest danger is when structure is placed above culture, rules above relationships. Rules are important; structures are vital. Yet, like the sabbath, they are at the service of humanity and not the other way around. © 2009, Bryan Froehle.
Authors Bryan FroehleRestricted
It is not uncommon for a school, parish, or even religious community to be closed and merged into a neighboring school, parish, or religious community. What is uncommon is for the result to have more active students, attenders, or members than the previous entities had when they were separate. In some cases that is simply because combining declining schools, parishes, or religious communities cannot mask the overall trend: they are passing away. In other cases, sadly, underlying negative trends may be heightened precisely by the merger itself. In other words, the medicine may be worse than the disease. That is not to deny pressing financial exigencies: Sometimes the only thing that can be done is to combine, risks and all, so that the mission may continue. But consider: When a community is declining, does it always make sense to expend energy in order to prolong it just a few years more? Are there other ways, so to speak, to give once-proud structures, organizations, and communities a joyful Christian burial? Could the energy spent in keeping these dying models alive be given to new initiatives that might be more firmly rooted in the realities of our time and the foreseeable future? And when a hasty merger of two schools, parishes, religious communities, or other ecclesial entities happens, only to have the overall health of the successor entity decrease more rapidly than previously, how much was really saved? © 2012, Bryan Froehle.Authors Bryan FroehleRestricted