What is Legacy Ministry?
Legacy congregations are those congregations that have an increasingly limited opportunity or capacity to extend their ministry and mission in a viable way that will continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ or contribute to changing the world, either locally or globally. There are multiple reasons that congregations reach a legacy moment in which they do not have a viable future including changing demographics, inability to bridge generational changes, increased age and decreasing capacity of current leadership, decreased resources or, deferred facility maintenance.
Legacy ministry with congregations is an effort to intentionally facilitate conversation and decision-making about closing or re-purposing ministry among leaders in congregations for which there is evidence of limited opportunity or capacity to extend their ministry in a viable way that will continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ or contribute to changing the world, either locally or globally.
The purpose of legacy ministry with congregations is to shift from reactive practices of closing congregations only after energy, resources and potential have been fully depleted, to proactive practices and conversations of missional purpose that can pass on the purpose of the congregation when the congregation itself, cannot continue. The meaning of legacy is a thing handed down by a predecessor. The origin of the word legacy is Middle English denoting the function or office of a deputy; from Medieval Latin – legatus: “person delegated.” A legacy congregation is one that passes its purpose and its resources on to a successor – another congregation or missional entity - that has been delegated to carry forward the mission no longer sustained by the legacy congregation.
The purpose of legacy work is to enable congregations to move quickly and directly to:
- decide to close or to repurpose their ministry
- determine to whom and how to pass on their purpose
- direct resources and assets to mission
- provide remaining members and participants with spiritual resources and alternatives
A fundamental assumption: It is the intent of legacy work with congregations to distinguish and separate the work of legacy planning from efforts of church revitalization or renewal. Because conversations and work of legacy planning are difficult and painful for congregational leaders, the constant temptation is to revisit options of congregational renewal or transformation, even when closure is inevitable. In most cases, to pursue avenues of renewal and transformation “one more time” commonly extends the pain of closure and further reduces available resources for ministry.
If, in doing legacy work, leaders determine that there is legitimate reason to consider continuation and renewal, then legacy conversations are to discontinue and renewal / transformation efforts can begin through other venues available to the congregation or provided by the annual conference.