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At Lovejoy Memorial United Methodist Abbey in Newnan, there’s row afterwards row of abandoned pews.



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Usually, about 29 bodies appear Sunday services.

Today, there are 17.



“We had accession aftermost Sunday, so that may accept article to do with it,” said the Rev. Jack Couch, the church’s 70-year-old part-time pastor.



The pianist is out, so Couch, who is additionally a able artist and songwriter, picks up his guitar and leads the aggregation in song.

Although Lovejoy’s associates is small, its acceptance isn’t.

The 114-year-old Lovejoy Memorial is one of the abate congregations in the Arctic Georgia Appointment of the United Methodist Church. Associates can trace their ancestors ties to the bend church, amid in the affection of what was already a association of comminute workers, aback generations.

The approaching direction, though, is ambiguous for Lovejoy and almost 20 abate congregations in the LaGrange Commune of the conference.

Members of the 2019 Arctic Georgia Anniversary Appointment afresh voted to convention a minimum bacon for part-time pastors, according to backer Sybil Davidson. “Some of these part-time pastors’ salaries accept been abbreviating while the workload charcoal the same.”

Churches are amenable to pay that minimum bacon of $12,750 to part-time pastors, alpha this January.

Churches who were advantageous beneath that minimum were notified in September by the commune administrator of apropos about the connected animation of their congregations. Those abstracts accommodate new baptisms and professions of faith, account appearance and beat ministries.

“The baby churches that are not advantageous that minimum bacon are now accepting to adjudge how to proceed,” Davidson wrote in an email. “In some instances, there are beneath than 25 bodies amenable for salaries, barrio and all the responsibilities of a church.”

Davidson said the LaGrange Commune is mostly rural, but she expects added districts in Arctic Georgia to eventually chase suit.

“It doesn’t beggarly churches will close. It’s aloof time to accept a chat about the future,” she said.

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Related: UMC accommodation has abounding unknowns for churches, members

It’s not aloof an affair with the United Methodists.

Other mainline denominations accept collapsed off or apparent appearance drop, sometimes precipitously.

The allotment of Americans who say they accord to a church, abbey or abbey averaged 50%, an best low, in 2018, according to Gallup. That’s bottomward from 70% in 1999.

The bead in abbey associates follows cultural trends that accommodate an accretion admeasurement of Americans with no religious preference.

In abate congregations, experts additionally point to crumbling membership, as able-bodied as bodies affective out of the area, not activity to abbey or abutting larger, added abreast churches.

Most churches are abate in admeasurement than the megachurches, with bags of members, that dot the landscape.

In fact, the majority of pastors, abounding of whom additionally accept full-time jobs, serve their congregations anniversary anniversary with bashful advantage and generally in rural areas of abate cities.

The National Association of Evangelicals’ 2017 analysis of 4,249 evangelical chief pastors begin that about 80% of pastors serve in congregations with beneath than 200 people, and 55% accept beneath than 100 bodies in their church.

Some congregations are so small, casework are led by a layperson, not an advancing pastor.

“We’re aloof in a abode in association appropriate now area it’s added and added difficult for baby congregations to sustain a pastor, alike a part-time pastor,” said Ron Robinson, a assistant of adoration at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. “Part-time bacon minimums are adequately new, but it’s in band with what United Methodists accept done for full-time pastors for a while.”

More: Gospel accompanist Micah Stampley’s babe dies at 15

For churches, options can accommodate amalgamation with addition church, application a layperson instead of a pastor or eventually closing.

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“Many of the baby abbey pastors I apperceive adulation the bodies in the congregations and communities,” he said. “However, they attempt with a abridgement of resources” in agreement of money and people.

Four years ago, discussions began amid Druid Hills United Methodist Abbey and Epworth United Methodist Abbey to anatomy a new, alloyed congregation.

Neither abbey was acceptable on its own.

Druid Hills, which was over a aeon old, already had as abounding as 800 bodies in its pews.

That cardinal dwindled to 80.

Less than a mile away, Epworth UMC, which was founded in 1890, saw its Sunday appearance bead to 25 or 30 bodies “on a acceptable day.”

“They accomplished that they would be stronger together,” said the Rev. Andy Woodworth, co-pastor of the 300-member Neighborhood Abbey in Candler Park, the new abbey that was formed from the merger. “Neither abbey abandoned was able to advance ample abundant numbers of associates to attain analytical mass. It was array of an abiding marriage, if you will. … What happens with churches is that they get into a abode area they can’t brainstorm what it would booty to do abbey abnormally and to affix with their association differently. It takes absolutely dispatch alfresco patterns and habits.”

Lovejoy’s Couch became a pastor three years ago and came to Lovejoy in June.

He understands that the appointment needs to accept statistical affirmation that a abbey is vibrant, but that’s not consistently about numbers.

Many of the associates are accessible to “pick up the pace, if that’s the amount of continuing,” he said. “My attitude about growing is not as heavy-handed. The absolute amount of a abbey is what its bodies are accomplishing out in the world. Are they actuality empowered to accomplish the lives about them better?”

John Lager, 76, has been a affiliate for two decades.

He stays because of the accurateness of its members.

“I’m not putting bottomward big churches, but we affliction about anniversary other,” said Lager, who is retired.

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“We’re family,” he said.

Another member, Owen Lambert, said the abbey is “near and dear” to him.

The achievability of closing or amalgamation angers him.

“If a abbey is able to sustain itself, there’s not acumen to abutting the church,” he said. “Me and my ancestors would not go to a ample church. We like a abate abbey area you participate, area you’re active. You cut the grass, if necessary. We put the banners up. I’m the treasurer. I’m additionally an usher.”

When a abbey merges or closes, there’s no agreement that associates will break with a accurate denomination.

Consider what happened at Poplar Springs United Methodist Abbey in Adairsville.

In 2017, the then-179-year-old church, amid about 60 afar arctic of city Atlanta, closed.

At its height, it had almost 80 members. At the time of its closing, associates had dwindled to six.

Lynn Smith and added associates fought to accumulate the doors open. When they weren’t successful, the aggregation met for a brace of years in a coffee shop, which bankrupt on Sundays. Then they were fabricated an action to hire to buy addition abbey aloof 4 afar away.

The new church, Poplar Springs Fellowship Church, is nondenominational, and its Sunday appearance is 30.

The above abbey acreage now houses a gas station. The aggregation bought the baby cemetery, which was beyond the alley and area several of Smith’s ancestors are buried, from the anniversary appointment for $1,200.

“We ashore calm because we acquainted like family,” said Smith. “We aloof weren’t activity to let the devil defeat us. The alone one who can acquaint us what to do is God. We don’t chase man’s law; we chase God’s law.”

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