The Uniting Church is in a crisis. Its membership is in decline but the church bureaucrats ignore the signs of impending doom. For example, the publicity material often contains photographs of happy smiling young people – but a person visiting a Uniting Church congregation will find few such young people.
In 2014 I was awarded a PhD from the University of Sydney for my dissertation on possible "futures" of the Uniting Church. It was on the identification of four ways in which the Uniting Church could evolve based on the secular management technique of scenario planning.
Four scenarios were devised:
(i) "Word and Deed" (the amalgamation of parishes into a small number of big parishes, providing both spiritual and welfare services)
(ii) "Secular Welfare" (just letting the congregations die off and concentrate on the expanding welfare work)
(iii) "Early Church" (letting the welfare agencies go their own way and instead return to the thinking of the early church, such as the use of house churches), and
(iv) "Recessional" (winding up the Uniting Church and letting the thriving parts go their own way, such as the Uniting Church private schools, hospitals and aged care facilities).
The "Recessional" scenario is not coming into play because the social welfare work is expanding.
The second scenario is "Secular Welfare" – a Uniting Church providing extensive community services but without congregations. This simplifies governance, management arrangements and risk management capabilities, and reduces unnecessary duplication and competition between Uniting Church agencies.
The "Secular Welfare" scenario envisions one Uniting Church agency that will run all the community services. The parishes have been wound up or just allowed to wither away. Some chaplaincy services may still be provided. Theological training will have been largely wound up, with the training of chaplains done via the Internet and/ or outsourced to other organizations.
Uniting Church parish missions with their own community services will have the services transferred to the central agency. Uniting Church schools – which already have a high level of autonomy – will be completely self-governing and responsible for their own affairs.
This Uniting Church has no congregations. For those mainly big parishes that are self-funding there is the prospect that they could continue to exist as independent parishes – and could even form their own "union" (however, given their reputations for individualism they will probably prefer to operate on their own). Many current congregations have a limited future (given their declining membership) and so their properties could be sold and the proceeds transferred to the new organization.
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