Week 66: I would love to know more about how to save a closing Christian Science church or Society. Anyone have any suggestions?"

Response 1: Melanie Wahlberg

Boy, that question prompts soul-searching, doesn’t it? Anyone that is helping hold together a church or society that is small in members is obviously committed to the cause of Christian Science. And there are certainly options for keeping the doors open – people can double up on the jobs they perform (I’ve seen the First Reader be the pianist, for example), or use pre-recorded music for preludes and hymns, etc. But there’s a deeper issue.

I’d encourage you to search your consciousness and discover more specifically what it is that makes you feel sad. Maybe you feel that if your church closes (or merges with another branch in a nearby town) that Christian Science will be less available to those in your community. Well, it’s true that there probably won’t be a building with the words Christian Science on it.

But one of the characterizations Mary Baker Eddy gives for church is that it “affords proof of its utility” (see Science and Health, p. 583). We often know in our hearts that there is no better place to be on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights. But if the number of members has dwindled and visitors aren’t appearing, it may be time for the membership to take stock and see if there aren’t additional or new ways to bless their community. This doesn’t mean that the members of the society have to give up on their community or “just go away.” Thinking along these lines often requires each individual Christian Scientist to do the hard thing – to ponder a bit more deeply what his or her contribution to the cause is.

I once served as First Reader at a society with few members and perhaps similar challenges as yours. Eventually the society closed, but I know of several individual members who have continued strengthening their practices. These Christian Scientists have joined other branches, contributed to the periodicals, and some have become Christian Science practitioners and teachers. I would guess that the closing of this society has not impeded either their own spiritual growth or their opportunities to bless and heal others.

We certainly don’t want a trend of closing Christian Science branch churches, and the decision to keep a society going or to close or consolidate efforts with another is not trivial. But the bigger questions we can each ask are: “How can I love better? How can I learn to heal more quickly, more thoroughly, more consistently?” These are the questions that help us mature, as individuals and as a field. They may be the very underpinnings to reversing any trend of closing churches.

Response 2: Phil Davis

Maybe the question is not how to save a particular church from closing, but to ask “should it be saved?” That may seem shocking to some. In most cases we would naturally pray for our church to succeed—for it to fulfill its definition of “elevating the race,” “rousing the dormant understanding,” and “healing.” (see Science and Health, p. 583). But when you have just a few members trying to keep a branch church or society afloat, they can end up spending all their time trying to keep the organizational mechanism going and have no time left to actually fulfill that definition.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen this happen many times. Rather than the church building becoming a place from which to minister to the public through healing, it becomes burdensome for these remaining members to maintain. Rather than the organization of church serving the mission of public healing, it devolves to mere committee activities, virtually void of healing.

All of this tends to push out the spirit and joy of true church work—loving God and loving our neighbor. When you think about it, the early Christians of 2000 years ago didn’t care about a church building (some met in caves!) and they certainly didn’t have a lot of By-Laws and committees. It’s safe to say that they cared less about what was happening inside their walls and were far more focused on healing outside their walls.

And this was the beginning of our own Christian Science churches, too. In most cases, branch churches and societies emerged because one or more people in that community were healing. In some cases, like the United States’ Midwest region, Christian Science practitioners were modern-day Pauls—spending time in a community lecturing, discussing and healing—then moving on to another community. Those who heard the message embraced it, were healed by it, got together with others and established a church.

Think about it. Wouldn’t the very activity that established our churches, also restart them today? The question is: Are those members ready to really love others by healing? If so, the closing of a very small church could be exactly what’s needed to bring more of Christian Science healing to a community. Without the traditions and burdens of an existing church structure, the remaining members could reignite their own vision for church as individual healers.

Church was never meant to be a clubhouse for members nor a safe haven for our own traditions and culture. It is not a place to quietly wait until people come in through the door. It is designed to be a collective expression of our proactive love for the community around us. We can only do this by individually and collectively healing others. It’s how Christian Science began. It is the only way it will continue.

  1. What a timely and relevant topic!! And also, two very good responses by Melanie and Phil. Thanks so much.

    As I have previously commented on this site, several of the branch churches which played a significant role in my early years have closed. First Church New London, CT. where I spent my very early years in Sunday School, after completely remodeling their edifice in 1952, closed sometime in the late 1990's. Then, after my family moved to north Jersey in 1951, I continued my Sunday School experience at First Church Rutherford. This branch, at that time was flourishing, with a good church attendance and about 45 in the Sunday School. It, too, closed in the late 1990's.

    Then, in the early 1980's, I moved to Chicago. I became a member of 12th Church, which had sold its very large Greek temple style edifice in 1973, but continued to meet in its Reading Room building. It had a small, mostly elderly (but very active) membership. It closed in the early 1990's. In 2001 I moved to south Jersey. The local church in Riverton closed about 2005. It had a forward looking, small congregation. I attended the final service.

    Although I was never a member of First Church NYC, I had a very close friend who was a member for at least 50 years. This magnificent building, opened in 1903, sat about 2,000. (The leading light of First Church at the time (1903) was Agusta E. Stetson.) It was sold to the Crenshaw Christian Center in 2003 for 14 million. By the time it was sold, the average Sunday attendance was about 30. First Church then merged with Second Church at 68th Street and Central Park West. (Second Church's founder was Laura Lathrop.) The combined "new" church kept the name of "First Church".

    The number of CS branch churches/societies has fallen from the 1950's when it was about 3,200 (the highwater mark) to about 1,659 branches worldwide today. So, about 50% of all branches have closed! It does not take too much imaginative capability to see where this is headed.

    What can be done? I certainly don't have any "magic bullet" solutions to this problem. However, I think the "liberalizing" trends in the CS churches over the past few years is a very good beginning. It is time to examine tired and threadbare ways of doing things. The "this is the way it has always been done" syndrome has simply got to go if this trend has any chance of being reversed.

  2. The responses from Melanie and Phil are fantastic, real keepers.
    God's vision of good is always in the "now", full and running over. Growth is an ongoing law of Mind. You can never measure or hinder it by material circumstances. Spiritual substance is ever-appearing infinity. If one door shuts Love opens a wider more wonderful one. That is a fact. Are we awake and watching?

  3. How about offering some practical solutions to the problem of church attendance falling off? How about providing activities for the kids during the Wednesday evening services? How about putting play equipment out on the grounds for them to play on?
    People of all faiths want fellowship. How about being more friendly, wearing name tags so newcomers feel they can remember names? How about assigning a "buddy" to a new person who comes to the service, send them a card of welcome, call them up, ask them for a bite to eat after a service. Focus on true fellowship. When a church closes there is no Christian Science focus for the community. "Devotion of thought to an honest achievement makes the achievement possible." It really does!

  4. Our church has a wonderful sense of fellowship. We have a very active care committee that even provides food for housebound members, Reading Room staff that is extremely involved with the community and its events, a Sunday School staff that goes out of its way to be involved with the students even attending their sports, music and theater events, etc. We have a church body as a whole that is very active in lunching with one another and new comers, going to plays and concerts together, etc. We have fun church extra curricular functions, keep in touch, help one another, love one another in practical ways, include newcomers, etc. We are open to new ideas in music, such as modern solos, instrumental accompanying, even duets! Our lecture committee recently hired a wonderful local restaurant that does much to help youth to cater before out lecture. We paid and provided the food free to those attending. We have many homeless and are always thinking of them. We have an active literature distribution group. We have active Christian Science nurses and practitioners who care so much for others. (I don't want to forget anyone!) And there is wonderful fellowship and joy both before and after our services. I would like to see our church buy the property next to it so we could extend the church a bit, have a playground for children and picnic area, and have our own parking lot. I feel the same with the Reading Room. I'd like a little larger space so we can have a good sized children's area. I even think we could provide for child care while parents shop. Ideas really are limitless. I love my church for being so open.

  5. Carol, I agree, fellowship and getting to know each other more than just seeing each other on Sunday's or Wednesday's is vital. Christianity is about real caring. CSM article, Community harvest with biblical gardening tools, can apply to churches as well. I realized I don't really know all of our members enough to call them close friends. This should be a place it feels like family no matter the size of the church. After all, Jesus was part of social gatherings many times to get to know those around him.

    This is a good question. Of course, we can bless the community without a church so the other question comes, do we need churches? Phil's last paragraph is very good and we really need to take it to heart. Thanks!

  6. This is a very thought provoking issue and as evident one that has caused significant concern to some members in our movement. I too live in a community where the society recently closed.

    Progress is the law of God.  How can what appears as closing churches possibly be progress? I really appreciate Phil'a comments in that area.  As I have prayed about this with respect to the Christian Science movement as a whole over the last 50 years or so two points came to thought.

    First, the thought of our movement as a tree is evident with The Mother Church as the trunk and branch churches.  I am not an expert gardener but I am aware that a key requirement to promote proper growth and good fruitage is pruning.   I would thus argue that our movement is still quite young and after such wonderful initial growth what we are now experiencing is a time of pruning.  Key branches will remain, but this process will in the end lead to a stronger church that promotes new growth when the time comes.

    Another point that occurred to me is that while the number of churches may have decreased, I am sure that the distribution of the churches today is much more widespread across the globe.  We all know the analogy of the mustard seed.  Thus I am heartened in knowing the seeds of Christian Science are being sowed more globally -- especially through the widespread reach of the Internet.

    The leaven of Christian Science is at work in the three modes of thought today -- Science, Theology and Medicine -- and although perhaps not yet visible the prayers of all Christian Scientists are promoting this leavening.  The promises will be fulfilled, including the universal acceptance of Christian
    Science as prophesied by our Leader, -- and I am convinced that the growth will again be rapid when the thought has been prepared.

  7. SINCE WHEN IS THE STRUCTURE OF TRUTH AND LOVE A PHYSICAL BUILDING? There should be NO equation between selling a building a closing a church. Selling a building is the most freeing thing possible for a small society, and an opportunity for new birth, new vision, new purpose, with a powerful focus on healing. Think of the possibilities! Set up a RR in a flea market every Saturday and meet more of the public and sell more textbooks and periodicals in one afternoon than you usually do in a year! Meet in member's living rooms. Have healing projects, like praying to heal community problems, visit youth detention centers, take a battered women's shelter under your wing. Take the funds from the sale and come alive! Look into the history of Lawrenceville (?) society in NJ. They have no building. They have incredible fellowship, share Wed. readings and testimonies by email, and have sponsored dozens of talks in high schools, health fairs, and public libraries. Alleluia! You're free to be the Christians you're meant to be!

  8. I concur with Phil and Melanie. Healing is the attraction. It can be interesting, but "Empirical knowledge is worse than useless: it never advanced a man a single step in the scale of being" MBE (Misc. p.234).

  9. I understand the situation, as my church built in 1921 when I went to Sunday School, had many kids attending as they expanded the church building for a bigger Sunday School Room in the 1950's. That same church recently has closed. Why? What can be done for other CS Churches with reduced attendance? Of course, we pray for new attendees or new members. But what is happening on why we have these issues to overcome, for the general public to also be interested in the CS Movement?
    1. Over the past 60 or so years, massive distractions to our general society has taken place with:
    (a) Video games for kids promoting violence.
    (b) Terrible movies with nasty language/violence.
    (c) Massive TV accessibility with all kinds of programming.
    2. Many marriage divorces/people only living together without marriage with this impact:
    (a) According to satistics, around 40 to 50 percent of children born today are maintained by a single parent or on welfare/food stamps.
    (b) Overall family values have deteriorated.
    (c) Most schools no longer have the Lords Prayer or Pledge of Allegence with saying "Under God."
    These conditions have hurt other church demoninations as well.WHAT DO WE DO? Hold to the Truth, God controls; not mortal mind. Therefore the CS Churches need to have more fellowship and reach out to the general public in new ways, without conflicting with the CS Church Manual. Little has been done by many CS Churches due to lack of funds or younger membership. BOTTOM LINE; More younger people are needed in the CS Movement for fresh ideas. "MORE DIVINE HEALING IS NEEDED AND KNOWN ABOUT BY NON-CHRISTIAN SCIENTISTS".................

  10. Jesus said to visit the fatherless, widow, prisoners. He held healing "church" services wherever he was. A tree may change the way it looks, but can never leave it's roots. Rooted and grounded in love, may you will find the Christly peace of God.

  11. I have experienced just about everything that has been mentioned already and my answer to the question is, " Fight! Fight and pray." A year ago I moved to a small town that I knew to have a Society. What I didn't know was that my membership would bring us up to 4! One of the 4 is in a nursing home and another is in his 90's! Being a tourist stop we might have a few visitors now and then. I had to take on a lot of responsibility. Lots and lots of prayer. Every service is submitted for the use of the community and the world, regardless of the seats filled. At some point my prayer caused me to be able to "see" the pews filled. Then they began to be physically filled. More than one person said they were "impelled" to walk through our door. Not an easy door to find, mind you. It's a room behind a bank building. Then gratitude took us further. We have a regular who has lots of ideas about outreach and is willing to do the work. She is also going to class this summer. We have other newcomers that have lived here but never heard of C.S. and are thrilled with what they are learning. We have reopened our reading room. We are starting literature distribution and a Science and Health reading group. I say FIGHT! Reach out. Take the lesson to a local nursing home and read to them. Get your literature out there. Pray for your usefulness in your community. We have found responses in places we would never have
    thought of. We have been SRO for weeks now. We even have folks here now that can sub as readers. Pray and protect the desk. A good service reaches out and growth becomes inevitable! Undeniable!

  12. I'm blown away by Phil's response -- it is so completely authentic, and spot on. Real communication in our church is what is so badly needed.

    This paragraph of Phil's is quite amazing--
    "Church was never meant to be a clubhouse for members nor a safe haven for our own traditions and culture. It is not a place to quietly wait until people come in through the door. It is designed to be a collective expression of our proactive love for the community around us. We can only do this by individually and collectively healing others. It’s how Christian Science began. It is the only way it will continue."

    Thank you, Phil.

  13. A while back, I sent several emails to the Clerk of the Mother Church. They had to do with the apparent decline in CS church attendance and membership. I received a telephone call from her secretary. The call was very polite but I concluded that she did not want to hear about my concern. Things have gone on, however, have they not?

    I believe there are some ways to encourage membership to attend. One is to, as noted above, change the policy on who may be admitted. Why not let persons become members who do not exactly fit what we interpret as what is a good member, e.g., should not persons getting medical care be admitted? Create a new category if you wish but certainly let persons looking in our direction for healing, in!

    By the way, this is a problem for most churches in the US today, i.e., reduced attendance.

    Now, this is what I really want to call our attention to. Most members are not really quitting, but shifting to the internet as has the CS Mother Church. Here is where we are attending in many meaningful ways including the lessons which we review on Sunday. In fact, I assume the Mother Church is aware of this because, here we are! There is no reason why branch churches and their membership cannot do the same. Why not consider it. Think of all the CS churches and members we can interact with, internationally.

    Thanks for considering.

  14. As an artist I recognize the need in any painting for a focal point. And the fact that the viewer must find a way "in" to enjoy the work. I think of this in relation to our "churches." If a church building is sold, move to the reading room. If they is no reading room to move to, open one - however modest - that, as a base, can serve multiple activities. But get a focal point where the words "Christian" and "Science" are displayed and "go out" from there and heal.
    I would guess we should beware a bit the internet. It is useful, but it can isolate. And yes, "here we are" as Jim said, but remember there is also the Boston "focal point."
    Thank you everyone for so many good thoughts!

  15. Great question! The responses are good too because they show a diversity of answers, and much hope.

    There is a trend toward quality as opposed to quantity, which is what is needed to meet the changing times. I loved # 11's response. Beautiful, practical, and obviously effective. Demonstrating true quality,dedication, and "affording proof of its utility" - a model living 21st century church for sure.

  16. I'm so grateful that this question is being addressed here. My small and active branch has found a wonderful way to connect with others who aren't able to attend services. We teleconference on Wednesdays and Sundays. Participants include members who are out-of-town as well as non-members who are far away and don't have a local church. The testimony meetings provide opportunities for all to share and we always hear of fine healings taking place. During severe storms, the meetings have been teleconferenced from the First Reader's home. So church walls can be convenient if they're available, but not having them does not have to be an obstacle.

  17. Dear friends who asked the question,
    My heart goes out to you...from our small society at Wynnum we could say...been there, done that. As our membership grew smaller I don,t think we ever let the notion of closing into our thoughts. You can,t close down CHURCH anyway...it,s a spiritual idea and we all really love that idea. When dear Mrs. Eddy "got the truth" she was only one....and look what grew out of that love for God and man. She didn't,t look at what the matter picture was telling her ...she saw what God was telling her....to go forward and heal each situation with great love. Doesn't the Bible promise "I will multiply thee"...how many times have we accepted and expected that promise to be fulfilled.....and the Father never lets us down.....not with thousands .....but with someone....we keep being grateful that because it is His Church ...He will fill all the spaces and places...They ARE already filled with divine Love and it is amazing how the ideas come .....to not look at the numbers ...but to trust that what is needed God will supply. Mrs. Eddy always kept the high goal before her thought she tells us in S&H. I love a TV advertisement ... They sing a jingle...."FROM LITTLE THINGS, BIG THINGS GROW"... Isn,t that comforting.
    If we (and you too) all really love what we are doing in our churches.then it is never a burden to work for church. God is love...He never burdens.....He lifts the burdens from us. ...I know you will all get the right idea about this.
    Just recently we had two of our members move away and another go away for6mths. That more than halved our membership. We prayed. Just before this happened a lady came from another CS church in another State to live..she drives almost an hour to come to Wynnum. She lovingly became our First Reader which allowedme to take the SS class. .....we also run a two hr radio program. We kept praying that Church is a complete idea of God. Two people from CS churches in other suburbs offered to be trained as disc jockeys to present the program and are loving it. Of course this is our demonstration and I tell it only to encourage you to look beyond the picture and the statistics to our heavenly Father who doesn't expect us to do more than we are able. Much love to you all in your harmonious working out of this situation.....from Pam Gasteen

  18. I don't know why this person had to even ask this question. Isn't it obvious. I agree with Phil. If that congregation has gotten so small and still hasn't figured out what the problem is.......
    When I took Class, I went to a church RR in Portland OR to study. The attendant didn't even look at me when I walked in. I stood there for 10 secs and then just walked in. Later she came in and asked me what I wanted. I asked her why she didn't greet me and she said she had to get the RR financial report finished and I had to leave because she had to go to the bank. That church is dyeing. My wife took six Japanese students to a large, all white, CS church in St Louis area. Not one person greeted them. Hello?! Japanese: they're the ones with the black hair and slanted eyes. You can't miss them. There was six of them. That church should close. I've visited churches where I had to be the one going up to people and introduce myself because no one bothered to greet me. Those churches should close. I've been in a church where Wed meeting was agony because no one had any healings to report on, but that same church has tons of business meetings. That church is dyeing.
    Isn't CS about love and healing? If those two things are there, then our church future is assured. If we don't have either of those, then we don't match the definition of church and we should close up. Why is that so hard to so many CS to grasp. We're our own worst enemy.

  19. The litle society which I am part of on many weekends (am a branch church member elsewhere in the week) closed last year as it was becoming quite a burden to a few members and numbers were dwindling. In the last few months of its closure before they completed the sale of the building suddenly the numbers started to rise as people began to attend more regularly. They did go ahead with the sale but now we meet in a members home and often almost run out of chairs! We feel like the early disciples and of course Mrs Eddy began meeting in front rooms. There is such a lovely sense of fellowship and often following our Sunday services it turns into a testimony meeting with members sharing insights from their study and healings. At Thanksgiving another member hosts a service followed by a wonderful lunch. I agree with Phil that sometimes it is the thing to do to move on and start again. We look forward to continued growth.

  20. I would like to share with you how our church was able to avoid closing about 15 years ago. There was the motion by two members to close down. The rent was too high, but mainly there was trouble with the "atmosphere" in our church. Certain members were continuously against almost everything that was going on in the board and in the membership meetings. It was very exhausting.

    We then called for a meeting of gratitude. I took all the cassettes of Herold programs I had and pulled out all the expressions of gratitude the testifiers said at the end of their experiences and put them together on another tape. We played this cassette at the beginning of the meeting and then asked people to say what church means to them, how church - our church - had helped them in different situations of their lives, etc. Such a wave of gratitude moved through the membership that the move to close down was taken back.

    We did move out of those lovely rooms and moved into much much smaller rooms - I always call them "our dolls' house" - where we started "from scratch". Our membership quieted down, peace settled in our hearts and new people started coming to services and to the reading room, which was and is in the same room as the church services are. During the first two years we were not able to give a lecture. But then one member gave a contribution "for a Christian Science lecture". This amount kept appearing on the monthly financial report until we were ready and able to invite a lecturer again. Since then we have not left out a single year regarding lectures; one year we even gave two !

    So, please, don't give up! Never! Mrs. Eddy once was asked if she thought Christian Science would continue to exist. And she answered, yes, - as long as there is a single Christian Scientist left. I have often asked myself: could I be this single Christian Scientist ?

    I have noticed here in Berlin that in the case of all the churches and societies that have closed during the eightieth and the ninetieth it was never because they lacked money but because the members got discouraged, tired and without a vision of church. So I often thought that I hoped our church would always have to pray for supply instead of heaving enough and "going to sleep". You know what I mean! Error doesn't like Christian Science because we know too much about the nothingness of matter and mortal mind. But we must not fall into the trap of discouragement. Let's have more services of gratitude - and not just on the last Thursday of November. Christian Science churches are a bull work agains evil and we must keep our vision polished and cared for and pray constantly and search our pastor for a higher understanding of God's unconditional LOVE.

    Our next demonstration will have to be: to populate our sunday school as we don't have any pupils right now.

    I know God gives you the necessary strength and conviction to keep at it and to be a real pilgrim and pioneer.

    Much Love, Anni

  21. Only now I have read all the other comments. There are wonderful thoughts expressed and helpful ideas.
    But there is one thing I would like to point out: Mrs. Eddy said again and again to Laura Sargent: "Don't justify yourself". To me this means that we must not try to justify errors, evil, mistakes, etc. There can be no justification for evil to gain ground in our thoughts and experiences. We as Christian Scientists have to be more radical in our thinking. God is All-in-All. That's all! Any "but" is the beginning of the Second report of creation. And that is a false report. Let's stick to the one fact of the Bible "GOD IS LOVE". And as the hymn says "Love's work and Love must fit!".
    Isn't that a wonderful task.

    Hymn No. 176 is such a comforting and reassuring prayer. "Long hast thou stood, o church of God, ... founded secure on timeless rock rises thy light, never failing; ..."

  22. What great responses! It is very exciting to me to read all of your wonderful experiences in keeping the idea of church alive in so many new and unique ways!

    However, let me add a few more ideas with which we all must wrestle.

    First, for some reason (I think there are many) today Christian churches, in general, are having some very difficult times. Attendance is way down in most of the "main-stream" Protestant churches, as well as the Catholic. In south Jersey, where I now live, the Roman Catholic diocese has, in the last several years, closed and merged many of its churches. The local Episcopal church, which I attend, is very small, with rarely more than 25 at a service. There is no Sunday School.

    Taking the CS church history, and going back to the early part of the 20th century, there was phenomenal growth. At one time, back in the teens, I understand that sometimes there were three or more new branches added every week!

    I lived in Chicago back in the 80's and 90's, and at one time I toured the former CS church buildings (now owned by other denominations) with several CS friends. Many years ago, there were 23 CS churches in Chicago proper. Today there are 7, and I think one of those is a society. These church buildings were huge, Greek temple edifices, seating over a thousand each, and mostly built back in the teens. How in the world did they manage to fill these churches? But they obviously did at one time.

    Today, I fear that the appeal of CS to the general public is greatly diminished. Much of this is due to the growing progress in the medical sciences. The idea of a "radical reliance" upon CS treatment makes most people new to CS have great qualms. I think that this is why today the CS church in Boston has "liberalized" its position on this subject. Each individual is now encouraged to deal with a medical situation in his/her own individual way. This, I think, is the only way CS today has any chance of surviving through to the end of the 21st century.

    So many of the branches have sold their old, very large edifices and moved into their Reading Rooms or other small quarters. They have become very informal in style and much more open to new, unique ways of doing things (as evidenced by the examples given in these many responses).

    Also, many CS churches ahve "taken a page" from the Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians, etc. and are now having the usual Christian fellowship type of activities: brunches, lunches, etc. Along with the metaphysical, there is nothing wrong with having appropriate social activities. There is something to be said for old-fashioned Christian fellowship.

  23. “It seem to me, outreach - or another way of saying it might be simply "reaching out to the community" - is the key to building/enlarging a branch's effective healing presence in the world around them.

    When someone complained to me recently that our Society is too ingrown, I had to look for a definition of that word to understand what was really meant by the comment. This one I found in Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary seems most appropriate: "having the direction of growth or activity or interest inward rather than outward" That sort of sums it up.

    Recent articles concerned with the state of religion in the world today have identified the problem as too many church groups with a "come-and-get-it" attitude...meaning they have these inspiring spiritual messages - but if you want to share in them you have to come to us, because we're not bringing them to you.

    Thanks to everyone for sharing in this discussion. I'm so grateful that at last conversations such as this are available to us.

    All views are so valuable and provide much fruit for thought. After all, when we're talking about our church even opposing views are not about "we and they", they're all about US.”

  24. Why dwell on a material structure, which in this case is a building called a Church. Is not the thought far more important than a structure. I am bedridden right now and working to know my spiritual structure in expressing God's most fabulous creation, MAN. Do I need a structure to accomplish this. NO! I am not condoning the idea that Church Buildings aren't necessary, they definitely are, but as Phil Davis pointed out, 2000 years ago, people met in caves. In reality Church is one's mental concept of sharing the truth of God and Man.

  25. What does the Leader (of the Christian Science Church), Mary Baker Eddy, let us know? Here's one idea in her writings, "Every step of progress is a step more spiritual." (from "People's Idea of God" p 1.)

    If the whole equation is worked out - in demonstration - from this sound basis, it can ONLY be fruitful and allow us to multiply!!

    In "The Consistency That Is In Christ" by John Tutt ("Christian Science Journal", 1952), he shares,"He (i.e., Jesus) knew that yielding to material means and methods invariably is at the expense of spiritual understanding and growth. Jesus drank the cup necessary to demonstration, but not the stupefying cup of appeasement or concession..." and furthermore, "If we follow Christ consistently, we shall find that we can demonstrate Christ as surely as Jesus did, and ultimately as completely."

    Mrs. Eddy is referring to "governing" children here but this somewhat applies, "Motives govern acts, and Mind governs man. If you make clear to the child's thought the right motives for action, and cause him to love them, they will lead him aright: if you educate him to love God, good, and obey the Golden Rule, he will love and obey you without your having to resort to corporeal punishment." --
    "Miscellany" p 51.

  26. I have been a member of many Christian Science churches. I started in Sunday School at First Chuch NYC on 96th St. The Sunday School was very interesting. Each class had a separate room with a big hall in the middle. Before and after class we would come out into the hall and have our hymns,etc. I especially remember the open iron elevetor we used to get up to the Sunday School. What a beautiful church it was.

    I also went to 3rd Church on Park Avenue and 8th church on 77th Street. They are still open.

    After I married and moved out of NYC, I went to 1st Church in Pelham, NY which closed after we left. When our 2 boys went to Daycroft School we attended the Greenwich, CT church. It's still open as far as I know.

    We were the most active in the Hudson, NY church which just closed. We sold the church, held services in the reading room for a while, and then held services in our livingroom for a while. When we moved to Rochester, there were too few people left to continue.

    With my experience, I feel the reason for churches closing is the lack of young people being encouraged to continue in church. Make them feel important - give them jobs to do. Let them usher on Wednesdays, play piano in Sunday School. Have picnics, invite their friends.

    This is so important for the continuation of our church. After all, children can heal and are very receptive to the TRUTH.

  27. The question that keeps coming to me today is:"Does God need "me" or "us" to manifest His healing power?" I'm thinking, "yes." God and man are one. We don't know God without man. So, God and church are one. Each man is unique and individual. Each church has a definite individual identity - completely spiritual but clearly seen. This Truth is here and now, and forever. To see church as spiritual is not to lose its visible manifestation. To see it spiritually is to experience its perfection and all-inclusiveness, here and now, functioning at full throttle, filled with ever-appearing goodness and abundance. Church is God in action. Does God need church to manfest His healing power? Does God know about each of His branch churches or societies? I have to answer, "Yes!"

    If the huamn expression of church is the result of this Truth, then we still need it as much as we need our human bodies to express our own individuality, at least until we ascend, and even then we don't lose recognizable identity. Also, the presence of church in a community is an unselfed offering of Truth to all in the community. It is a safe sanctuary full of healing for its members and a definable place the community can go to experience their Truth. Wouldn't this equate into being the most important place on earth? I feel that both the internet and community church structure are imperative.

    I agree with Gil Bird, those were not churches. We truly do need to stop shooting ourselves in the foot. I agree with Ani not to give up or to justify our failings, and Brad keeps making us stay awake to what the failings have been. I love all these answers: Carol's call to be practical, Lori's quotes, Lee's ingrown verses outward, Norma's "focal point", Pam's 'can't close CHURCH down' but seeing it full and growing in a big way, Walter's alerts of what needs to be guarded against, Madelene's "fight fight fight", Amy's clear logical vision.....etc. etc.

    Everyone's contributions are so valuable. Again, THANK YOU, to Melanie and Phil ALL these answers are awesome and have really awakened my thought. Thank you all! We are living in the Age of Divine Science. It's never going to go away thus we cannot fail. Let's run the race with joy and live with conviction!

  28. Each year Navy chaplains attend a week-long conference dealing with a specific issue. Presenters come from a wide scope of faiths and are highly qualified in the conference subject. One year our subject was "increasing attendance." Statistics given by one speaker indicated that over 90 percent of individuals when asked what initially drew them to attend church gave the name of an individual who inspired them --- not an advertisement or some other reason. Another speaker quoted statistics that showed making a telephone call during the week to a member who was not present on Sunday increases the liklihood of that member's presence at the next service. Healing was not discussed at the conference, but we all know the many Bible references to numbers increasing every time Jesus or one of his followers healed.

  29. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts.How timely ! Coming Sunday we have a metaphysical meeting at our Delhi Church.India On the subject:" Church attendance"I am going to share some of these lovely thoughts & experiences of these dear contributors.I have great faith in Christ....He will help us to keep going.We are fortunate that tourists from all over the world visit our Church & bring fresh air of hope & expectancy .Our testimony are always full of testimonies .God bless Mrs Eddy to have made provision for these meetings where we can share our experiences.

  30. I have a different perspective on Church and Christian Science. I grew up where there was no Christian Science Church. We as a family did the lesson. I attended a variety of churches with a variety of friends. We did not meet with others in our home. Growth in understanding Christian Science on the physical healing side was slow but in regards to relationships and forgiveness it came early bringing peace and calm to adversarial and contraversial situations. When we moved we attended a church for years but never became members and did not actually get to know many people within the church because of time constraints. Now I am a church member and love every bit of interaction within the church. Yet living at a distance I seem to be inconsistent in attendance. Physical and emotional health are always found in Christian Science and no matter how small a church is it is a huge benefit to the members and the community. I feel that the practitioner in each church is so crucial. I would be very upset if a gathering place and interaction was lost for members and non members alike but no matter what, this Church of Christian Science is very much Alive and will remain so and growing if we share outside the church as much or more than we do within the physical walls of a building.

  31. Hi Everyone again,

    I am really enjoying this great discussion. So many excellent ideas and new ways of thinking about things.

    When I read Carole's comments (#26) about First Church in NYC, I had to smile and go back to my many wonderful memories of that remarkable church building.

    To anyone not familiar with First Church, it had quite a place in the early history of Chirstian Science. It was opened in 1903, under the leadership of Augusta E. Stetson, an early student of Mrs. Eddy's, and who had been given the task by Mrs. Eddy of founding the CS movement in NYC. (As most of you probably know, Mrs. Stetson was excommunicated in 1909.)

    First Church sold its building in 2003 to the Crenshaw Christian Center (headquarters in Los Angeles) for 14 million. Sadly, the attendance at First had declined over the years to about 30 at a Sunday service, in a sanctuary which sat 2000. After the sale of its building, First merged with Second Church at 68th Street and Central Park West. The name of Second was dropped, and the new merged church took the name of First Church. (Second Church was founded by Laura Lathrop, also a student of Mrs. Eddy. It's beautiful building was begun in 1899 and is also quite an historical landmark in NYC.)

    The architecture of First Church is quite different from most CS churches with which many of you are familiar. It has many stained glass picture windows, the most famous of which was designed by John Lafarge, a competitor at the time to Tiffany. (This window, showing Jesus and Mary outside the Garden Tomb, was appraised at one million.) The sanctuary has enormous chandeliers, with the motif of seraphim up and down the lamps, each of which probably had 100 bulbs! It also has choir stalls!

    The Sunday School, to which Carole referred, was, I believe, on the fifth floor of the building, and, as she said, reached by either of 2 victorian style elevators. There is another elevator in the rear of the building. Also, there is a six room apartment for the custodian, as well as a garage. Quite a building!!

    I was devastated when First was sold, and had thought that the Mother Church should have stepped forward to save such an important historical building in the CS movement, but I suppose that that was unrealistic. All over the US there are many magnificent old CS church edifices, seating thousands, which have been sold over the years. The question, I suppose, remains as to why those churches were at one time filled to capacity, and today the pews are empty. No matter how much we talk about "unempty" pews (in our thought), the sad fact remains that they are still empty in the "real" world!

  32. Our church faced this exact situation less than a decade ago. It was a society at that time and had been since the 1920s. Discussions of closing were getting serious. There were not enough members to run the church or to provide a financial base for its operation. Collections had not been meeting expenses for more than a year.
    We decided that outreach should be our focus. Our little band began writing down all of the ways we could bless our community and ceased looking at closing, selling our property and distributing the proceeds. Conscientious prayer enabled us to come up with over 30 possibilities for sharing Christian Science within our community and we began implementing a couple of the immediate do-ables.
    The shift in thought provided the impetus for an entirely new attitude, and church became a vibrant place. Even though we lost even more of the few members we had there was no further discouragement. New people began coming into the fold--hard workers with good ideas for sharing and a willingness to be a part of church in its highest sense.
    Growth became the expectation and norm instead of a rapidly dissolving wish. Within a couple of years, we had the finances and membership needed to become a church and are continuing to bless our community in a multitude of ways.
    Today our weekly collection is more than sufficient to meet expenses, and Church Alive activities have given us new ideas and directions for outreach and for actually reducing church expenses will increasing the quality of our services. In fact our last Christian Science lecture (which we hadn't been able to hold for many years prior) became the first to use Webinar and live interactive video conferencing and included at least 100 "attendees" from all across the USA, the UK, Mexico and Canada.
    If it is appropriate to share, please include the fact that we are First Church of Christ, Scientist, Athens, GA, and that our website (also a new vibrant addition) is georgiaspirituality.com. We are delighted to share our experiences individually with anyone wishing to know more about this transformation.

  33. I would say - sell the church building and focus all of your activity in a store front or shopping center Reading Room. Make this Reading Room absolutely bright and vibrant, displaying wonderful healing messages, and keep it open as much as possible. Since your church services will be there too, the community will see your presence. You can find a way to get music into a Reading Room, for church services.

    I base this advice on several negative experiences I have had. One was, going into a Reading Room in a small town that was literally like walking into the 1970's in every way, including what they had for sale, the paint, the decor. It even smelled musty. This church has since closed - no surprise. Another experience was going to church in a small town. The building was old and dark and the membership small. They were excited that they had just gotten a new organ. There wasn't a single hymnal supplement in sight. I was sad that the organ was such a big priority rather than keeping up with the times.

  34. Hi Everybody,

    To Don -- (#32), After reading your post, I checked out First Church, Athens GA website, to which you had referred.

    I was quite surprised to see that your church building is much larger than I had supposed it would be. It would seem that at one time, your congregation must have been larger. Were you always a society, or at one time did you have the status of a church? One suggestion: when I check out the websites of different CS branches, I always like to see as many photos as possible. (You know the old saying, "a picture...".) Having seen the outside of the church, I would have also enjoyed seeing the interior (i.e. the sanctuary, etc.). Also photos of the members engaged in various activities. Just a suggestion.

    Anyway, Don, it is obvious from your post, that your society has found a new source of inspiration and activity. That is really great!

    To Sally (#33)-- Not too long ago, when I would read about CS churches selling their beautiful, old and usually very large buildings, I had a great sense of sadness. I still feel somewhat the same way, but today I can see a glimmer of hope in what, at first, would seem to be a depressing state of affairs. As you very correctly pointed out, how much better for a church which has declined in membership, if forced to sell their building, to move into a strategically placed and brightly decorated Reading Room. In fact, this seems to be the new trend for many churches.
    The type of service in CS churches (read, mostly) lends itself very well to the informality of a Reading Room setting.

    A month or two ago, I watched with great interest a vidoe from the Church Alive summit meeting at Third Church in NYC. (March 31 - April 1). There was a talk given by two women about churches which had relocated very succesfully into their Reading Rooms. One case cited was actually the result of a merger (First and Second, Sacremento, CA). In this case, they had actually built a new building (a combined Reading Room and church) with the funds from the sale of their old edifices. Very interesting!! Worth looking at!

  35. I love this discussion and can only add that there's maybe just 2 questions we need to ask - Where does God want us to be? What does God want us to do? - and then really dropping ALL preconceived notions or opinions and really listening with all our hearts to hear His direction. The results are thrilling.

  36. Thank you for the question and the responses. May I share something that has been helping me. I remembered when I took Class Instruction in Christian Science, and our teacher gave us our first assignment - go home and heal, take up the healing work in whatever way it is presented to you. Healings were shared daily as the we were encouraged to keep healing. The reason for sharing this is to say that I have found that getting clear on my individual life purpose, to know God better each day and to help and heal mankind is key to my membership of church. Getting that upfront as my daily goal has lifted the concern of:can we remain a church, should we be a society, might we close, can we turn this around - type questions. We are Church, the living, loving expression of God. We don't have to become what we already are, we need to keep being what we truly are. I hope this doesn't sound too simplistic, it keeps me focused - well on the theme for annual meeting - the call of the Christ. Thank you all so much.

  37. I just noticed my name on Church Alive so guess I had put in a word about our Society in Balfour BC Canada. We had our Church for over one hundred years in the Small city of Nelson a half an hour away.It had Christian Science services held in it for one hundred years,literally. We began having serious vandalism in it to a point of actually having it trashed. That did it.There were only a few members using the building so we decided to leave town and come home to Balfour. Good move. We sold the building and moved here a year ago.We were welcomed to share expenses with our local Anglican church which we have gratefully do. Why did we not give up? Simply because we all wanted our own church srvices to go to and we are all doing our best at growing spirtually in every way. Hope this helps someone.

  38. Again, I just want to say thanks to everyone for these great responses. Church, as many of you have pointed out, is not really a question of four walls, etc., but a spiritual idea. "The structure of truth and love..."

    However, this still leaves us with the incontrovertible problem of empty, dwindling, and closing churches. To simply close your eyes to this fact and say that numbers don't matter is sort of like the ostrich hiding its head in the sand. When a church can't pay the utility bills or other pressing obligations, it does matter. I have, over the past few years, made something of a "hobby" in clipping articles from the internet about former CS church buildings being sold to other denominations, converted into concert halls, community centers, etc. Today, I have a file several inches thick documenting the demise of these grand old churches.

    These buildings were built to accomodate large, growing congregations. What happened? It is generally conceded that the "highwater" point of the CS Church was sometime back in the 1950's. Since that time, it has been a long, slow, and painful slide into the morass of where the CS church is today. Can you imagine where we will be in 20 or 30 years?

  39. Recently I reread MBE 1900 Message to The Mother Church and all of us and especially congregations facing "survival" questions might ponder the thoughts on page 2:7 to page 3:8 where Mrs. Eddy describes three types of human behavior. The question we might ask ourselves: are we truly and honestly the "right thinker and worker" as described by MBE which includes fruitage? Then the questions regarding facilities will be appropriately answered.

  40. Today I came across an article about the former First Church St. Petersburg, Forida edifice receiving historic landmark status. It was built in 1926 in the classic style and sat about 1000.

    The building was sold by First Church in 1998, and I believe currently is used as the Paladdium Theater. I don't know whether First Church is still open and meets elsewhere. I have not had time to check, but I will.

    There was one interesting point made in the article. It was stated that, at one time, in order to get a seat, one would have to arrive early. By the time the building was sold, the average Sunday attendance was down to 50.

    Eventually, there won't be any more of these grand old buildings left in the CS movement. I would imagine that there aren't even that many left now.

  41. Some of these comments in this thread are very helpful as we all ponder the issues. One thing no one seems to talk about is why those full Sunday Schools up through the 1960's haven't translated into full churches as those children and then their children reached adulthood. Informal checking in recent years indicates a specific "continuation rate" of fewer than 1 in 10 children from Sunday School to church attendee over the past 50 years. I once suggested to TMC Board that they initiate a low key but professional study of the matter---interview a sampling of those dropouts to see what they had to say, and what we could learn from that. There was never a response to my letter. We all think we know some of the answers but it would be most helpful to actually find out the top four or five reasons Sunday Schoolers dropped out later...and most of those folks are still out there, a huge potential body of new workers in the movement, already familiar with the basics of CS.

  42. Hi Bob (#41),

    Thanks for your comment. I know the Board generally tries to respond to all questions that come their way, so I asked a colleague in the Board office to look into your correspondance. She didn't find a record of your letter suggesting a Sunday School/church attendance survey, so it seems like it may have gotten lost in the mail or otherwise not received. I'm sure they'd be happy to hear from you if you'd like to send it again!

    all the best,
    Church Alive Team

  43. To #18 – Gill Bird, let me apologize for the silent treatment received by your wife and those six precious Japanese students at church! I know they were given a hardy welcome at Principia School. For a couple of years, I was involved with a local home church and it was wonderful. We have now merged with another CS branch and moved into the church building, but we still try to look at everything we say and do from the perspective of a first time visitor to a CS church – what will make them comfortable? For us, that means that no matter where you are on your spiritual journey, at our church you are accepted, respected and loved! And we also have a couple of minutes at each service to meet and greet those around you so that we can be certain no one visits our church without being welcomed…

    In Mrs. Eddy’s day, the CS churches were very similar to all other churches. They all used some version of the King James translation of the Bible, the hymns were the same or similar, they had organs if they could afford them, church magazines were similar, they had Quarterlies for the Bible lessons with Golden Texts and Responsive Readings, etc. People felt comfortable leaving their old churches and flocking to the CS churches, where they gained a better understanding of the Bible through Science and Health, Key to the Scriptures. None of the mainline Christian churches still use the old “common” versions of the KJ (Cambridge, Oxford, Bagster, etc.) so that is a conversation we will need to have at some point.

    To Brad – A couple of times you mention the phrase “radical reliance on Truth” from Science and Health as if radical means extreme or drastic, but those are currently the number 2 and 3 definitions. The #1 definition of radical even today is: “of or going to the root or origin; fundamental” and I also like #4 “forming a basis or foundation” and the first level of synonyms “basic, essential; original, innate, ingrained.”

    Many commented on fellowship, which is a practice which I believe brings us into better compliance with the Manual. Mrs. Eddy writes that, as Mother Church members, we must “live in Christian fellowship” with one another or withdraw or be excommunicated from the Church! She also stipulates that all churches that are advertised in the CS Journal must maintain “an attitude of Christian fellowship” to one another.

    Thank you Melanie and Phil and all who made comments for this amazingly honest discussion!

  44. Thanks to all comments and answers ;
    Sharing is the beginning of headings;
    There is for me two importants aspects of
    Challenges CS are facing.1) mrs eddy said
    The church should be a place for focusing only
    In services and headings. She said go help outside of the church, be part as much you can to reach out and help comminities!I think that is the ideal approach !Well, the question today could be: if eddy would be with us today physically
    She may say: ok , time are changing, let us review the whole thing!let us open our doors to folks and like other successful other denominations , have daily social activities inside our walls; NOW the important question to ask ourselves :are we going to open our doors , having social activities, in other words ,for
    The sake of having more attendance?
    Or really to apply CS in the vision of its teaching?
    The other aspect : as we know the bible has been revised and translate in more contemporary versions , which bring and give new students and new comers a more attractive aspect and something they can relate to their own new generation; with all respect I have for mrs eddy,
    I believe that science& health, in some parts are too convoluted , and Can also be put in a more easy contemporary approach;
    Of course most of her words , statements and writing can not be touch or replace, OR REINTERPRETED, they are irreplaceable .

  45. Brad writes #40 - "eventually there won't be any more of these grand old buildings left in the CS movement " - Hooray ! How wonderful to be inencumbered and free to let our light shine in the community - in the many ways that have already been mentioned in this inspiring discussion . We are all on such an exciting spiritual adventure ! Let's go forward with joy , and relish the spiritual opportunities right in front of us all.

  46. Comment #18 (admittedly written a few years ago) mentioned a lack of friendliness and cordiality to visitors at Christian Science services. Sadly, even as an active church member, I've also experienced the "cold shoulder" when visiting CS services in other states or countries. The friendliness - or the lack thereof - makes quite a difference.

    Last year, I spent a few weeks in London. I visited three Greater London churches. (Out of politeness, I won't give the specific church names, although perhaps I should!) On the first Sunday, I was summarily ignored at one congregation. Even the usher who opened the door for me averted her eyes. I supposed that it was British aloofness (yes, I know that's a stereotype, and I learned better the next Sunday).

    On my second Sunday in London, I attended another branch church. Before and after the service, I was smiled at, greeted, and "chatted up" by about a dozen enthusiastic members. A breath of fresh air, to say the least. A small group approached and asked if I'd like to have Sunday lunch with them. I politely declined, as my non-CS travel companions had made other plans. But it was absolutely great to be invited! I believe, dear friends, that this is called CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP.

    On the third Sunday, I visited yet another branch church. I wasn't ignored, nor was I as effusively welcomed as at the second church. However, I did receive several smiles and polite greetings, which certainly beat church #1.

    Enough said. If you were a newcomer to CS or even a member moving to London Town, which branch church would you attend?