, then pastor of Bethany Church
, was looking into the teeth of another cold Michigan winter.Offrink had been Bethany's pastor since 1992.
"I did at least 10 funerals a year for the first 10 years I was at Bethany Presbyterian," he
came, the congregation had 195 members; at the end, it had just 118."I felt like I could never get ahead of the demographic curve," Offrink
said."People kept dying faster than I could get new people in."
In the fall of 2005, Offrink
looked hard at his
congregation's budget.Working with the finance committee, it was clear "we had just so many years left with a full-time pastor and so many years left that we could afford to support a building that was costing us $15,000 a winter for heat alone."
So on Feb. 2, 2006, Offrink
sent a letter to four other small churches in Flint - presenting them with the possibility of merger.They all were small and struggling congregations, one with a parking lot just big enough for 18 vehicles.He
suggested that if they each sold their buildings they could join forces, save about $30,000 a year in heating bills, and have more energy for mission.
In the end, one congregation pulled out of the conversation, one shut its doors altogether, and three others moved ahead.
Two â€" Bethany and Farnumwood â€" were predominantly white congregations that had loyal members but had been growing smaller for decades.Christ the Liberator parish had been established in the 1960s as a black congregation, but had never grown beyond about 90 members.Offrink
suggested that the three congregations merge, and that they all sell their buildings and move someplace that was energy-efficient and, for all of them, completely new.Emotionally, he
figured, "the sacrifice would be equal" if they all left their buildings.
"I wanted us to be named â€˜The Church of What's Happening Now,' but the congregation held out for Trinity United Presbyterian," Offrink
"It's a place nobody's fallen in love with," Offrink
Previously, "as the churches became more and more strapped for cash and more and more concerned about paying the bills, they seemed less and less able to see mission beyond," Offrink
"Even the pessimists are finding that there is a lot of satisfaction in diversity," Offrink