I have been a manager for several large international corporations, and some of them had financial difficulties while I was there. In order to survive the companies made changes, sometimes significant, other times not major, and all came out okay. In one of those companies I believe the board should have fired the CEO. Instead he oversaw the company being bought by someone else and walked away with a huge compensation package, which quite frankly he didn't deserve. But that's another story. Either way, changes were made, and rather quickly, to take the company in a new direction to ensure its survival.
What they did not say to us as the managers was that we needed to do a better job of hiring employees; that we needed to be more stringent in who we brought in. They certainly hoped that we were hiring the best people we could find and were equipping them to do the job, and, for the most part, I think we were. But what the leadership of the company understood was that the local workers and managers were not the reason the company was in trouble. Instead it was the structure and leadership of the company at the top that needed to be changed. That is all a long lead-up to a conversation that I participated in recently.
Myself, another provisional member and a member of the Board of Ordination were discussing how the Board is operating right now and what they are looking for in those seeking to become Elders, like me. He said the Board had been way too lax in the past and had put people into positions that they probably should not have had, and they were sent out and killed churches. After they were done killing one church, they would be moved on to kill another church, and on and on. Now, the church is paying the price for this laxness. In order to rectify this situation, the Board has now tightened down their process in order to make sure they are taking only the best candidates, because in the Board member's words "the future of the church is in your (the younger clergys') hands."
While that is a good policy to have in place, and we should only be taking those whom we think can do the job, (although I'm not convinced the process does that), does that fundamentally solve the problem? To me that sounds more like management saying, stop hiring who you're hiring, because they are the problem. Instead hire only the best, and maybe in ten to fifteen years they will make a difference and we'll be okay. In the meantime we are going to keep doing what we are doing, and doing it with exactly the same people and hope for the best.
Now there are of course lots of reasons for the church's decline. A lot of it has to do with complacency. Most of the leaders of the church grew up and entered the ministry in a time when people were, in the words of Marcus Borg, "conventional Christians." That is, they went to church because that is what you did. All churches needed to do was to build a building and people would show up. Most did not need to think about evangelism, outreach, keeping up with new ideas, they could just be and be fine. That, as we are all aware, is no longer the case.
While we still have many "conventional Christians" in our pews, the next generations are now "intentional Christians." That is they are being intentional about joining the church, what church they are joining (no denominational affiliation) and why they are joining. That is if they join at all. (The church needs to fundamentally rethink what membership means as well).
Today's younger generations are coming to church not because it is expected, but instead because they want to be fed spiritually. If they are not being fed then they will either go somewhere else, or stop going all together. That means that we as a church need to do three things.
First we need to be able to convince people that they are hungry, and that we have something for them. Second, we need to make sure we have the capacity to feed them. And third we need to be able to walk them into discipleship so that they can in turn go out and feed the world.
Unfortunately, most churches just simply are not set-up to do that, nor is the church structure set-up to do that. The great commission says "go out and make disciples and baptize...." Instead, we are baptizing and then hoping to make disciples. What we end up with is membership roles full of people who don't attend church and are not becoming disciples of Christ.
In order to turn this ship around, we need to make some fundamental changes, and the change can't simply be saying we're now getting in good clergy who in 10-15 years will be able to make a difference. In my experience the leadership of the church has not looked at themselves and said "we are part of the problem, we are the ones who ran the ship aground, maybe we don't have the answers. Instead, we need new models, new ideas, new ways of being and doing church and new leadership." Without fundamental changes at the bottom and the top, the church is going to continue down a path that does not lead to offering people the love of Christ.