Everywhere I turn, people are falling. Falling into sin or falling into doctrinal error. Some are falling into mediocrity as acceptable. You don’t need me to report specifics to you, we all have our stories.
Recently, I saw a story by my friend Todd Starnes on “The last church in Churchville.” It’s a small town in Iowa with about a dozen homes and a church. There is no stoplight, but they do have two stop signs. This struggling town use to be thriving and full of life during the glory days when the Great Western Railroad ran through the town. Today the stockyard is empty and their grocery store is boarded up.
The Catholics built a church in the town, Assumption Parish. For the most part it was a simple country church. Today the Lutheran church is closed down and now the Assumption Parish will close its doors. The Bishop from Des Moines told the church they weren’t “viable.” This past Sunday was their last Sunday, as the Bishop decided they needed to close the doors. It’s a sad ending for a church that has lasted for generations.
Now the question comes, should your doors be open or should someone from “headquarters” advise that your day is over? What I like about being Baptist is we don’t have bishops overseeing our churches and telling us what to do. What I don’t like is we’ve got a lot of dead, inefficient, carnal, dying churches that need someone to tell them it’s time to close up shop.
If a church is not fulfilling the Great Commission, why does it exist? If a church is not reaching the community, does it really need to take up real estate? It’s a valid question. It’s not an easy answer.
In my hometown, my home church is barely surviving. A once great church that ran over 600 and had an auditorium that could seat 1,000 now could fit inside a medium-sized Sunday School classroom. The last time I spoke there, my kids were the only kids in the whole church. It was dead then, and it’s really dead now. They just don’t know it yet. They are on the most highly traveled road in my hometown, and they’ve forgotten their purpose.
Far too many churches in America are dead or dying. They are plateaued, status quo, or resistant to change. They are primarily made up of senior adults holding the fort. The only decision left to make is who will put the “For Sale” sign in the front yard and lock the doors for the last time.
Why is this happening? We can blame it on shifting populations, socio-economics, dying communities, and a dozen other factors that all may have some merit. But the truth of the matter is these churches die because they’ve lost their vision and their passion. The vision of the founders has not been embraced, spread, and supported.
Listen, I’m writing as a pastor who lives in a dying city. We are the fourth poorest city in America. We have 32 gangs. Yet, the church I’m privileged to serve has just completed Phase 1 of a building project involving two new three-story buildings with all new Bible study space, a two-story indoor playground, a new outdoor playground, a coffee shop and bookstore, and a 450-seat youth worship space and café. Why? It doesn’t make sense…UNLESS you read the Bible and believe the promises of God.
We can’t say we believe the Bible and sit silently watching a community race towards hell. We had to act. Not for us, but for generations to come. The members of this community need a vibrant, alive church.
To be honest, it would have been easier for me to ride out the next ten years and not build the buildings. It might have been the safe thing, but it would have been the WRONG thing. I couldn’t look at the lostness of this city and say, “I’ll let the next guy worry about this.” I couldn’t face this congregation and say, “We’ll let someone else do this.” We had to act. There was a need to meet, and we were going to meet it.
The day a church quits caring about the next generation, her days are numbered. The day a church stops reaching out, the doors will eventually close. The day people are content with doing as little as possible, they stop being the people of God and become the people of convenience.
Every community in America is filled with lost people. Every town, parish, city, and community is immersed in lostness. The question is, are we going to sit around in our comfortable pews and sing, “We are one in the Spirit,” or are we going to get out of the pews and by the power of the Spirit invite people to a relationship with the living Lord?
The choice is yours and mine. We can either preside over a slow, painful death followed by a funeral or we can prepare people to see with eyes of hope and faith. As for me, I’m believing God for greater days to come. I will not rest on the past. I will not ignore the issues of the present. I will not spend my days on this earth making excuses. I will, by the grace of God, do all that is within me—by the power of the Holy Spirit and on the authority of the Word of God—to leave the doors open so that “whosoever will” may come.