My home church closed its doors recently. After decades of limping along, they finally pronounced the last rites and admitted they could no longer maintain the facilities. Though once a significant witness in my small hometown and centrally located on the main drag, the church was unable to sustain itself. Where once rooms were filled with preschoolers, children, and young people, hallways had become silent, rooms were locked off, and twenty-five elderly saints huddled up and held on as long as they could.
It didn’t have to happen, and it should never have been this way. I grew up in the church’s heyday. I know what it was like then, and I know what it could have been. Unfortunately, some person or group along the way decided that the Great Commission didn’t apply to them, and they quit reaching the community.
The members deeded the facilities to a church that is trying to fulfill the Great Commission in the community. The church that will take over the facilities has a growing Preschool and Children’s Ministry. They needed the room, and my home church had it. Two churches in the same community – one reaching out and one dying. My home church is located one mile from the only high school in town. Apparently, that was too far to go or too much to ask to sponsor ministries that would once again impact that campus.
The name of my home church was Calvary. You know the songs… “burdens are lifted at Calvary”… “years I spent in vanity and pride, caring not my Lord was crucified”… “Calvary covers it all.” Yet the Calvary I grew up in was content to die without any thoughts as to a resurrection. Calvary without an empty tomb has no power to take people dead in trespasses and sin and offer them life.
Religion is dead. You can dress it up, but it’s still dead. A church died because it quit being the church. It quit fulfilling the Great Commission. They didn’t read Acts 2 or 4 and pray for boldness. If you aren’t salt and light, you aren’t irritating the culture and they will leave you alone.
The old steeple on the church had a rotating light on the top like a lighthouse. You could see it from miles away. One day the light went out physically, but I would dare say the light went out a long time before. Where a thousand-seat auditorium was once packed for TRUTH concerts and hundreds filled the floor for revivals, you could have fit the whole church on the front two pews. How sad and tragic. Where once hundreds of youth gathered for prayer meetings during the height of the Jesus Movement, now there are no children or youth to be found. My home church is living proof, by their death, that when you forget why God put you somewhere, you begin to die.
What happened? I’ve got some hunches, although I haven’t been there in years. They tried to live off of the good old days for too long. They weren’t stretched and challenged (possibly because they refused to call a pastor who would stretch and challenge them). They were stuck in a time warp and forgot we are living in the 21st century. The same is true for churches all across our nation. Once vibrant churches are now closed up, on life support, or close to having to call in spiritual hospice care. They’ve quit. They’ve given up. They complain, but they don’t get on their faces to find out why the glory is gone.
Churches try to share facilities with other churches, but often the old crowd doesn’t like the new folks “taking over” their church. I know of a church that averaged over 700 in Bible study in the 1970s, and they now have 14. Another had 1,000 in the ‘70s and now has about 20, and none of those are under the age of 70. The illustrations and examples are, to be honest, nauseating. This is NOT what Jesus died for. We are spending tons of money in my denomination trying to revitalize churches – churches that quit, lost their first love, caved to committees and power groups, and a thousand other predictable diagnoses. Carnality can kill more churches than we can plant to take their place.
All of this is a sign that we need revival. We need a renewal of passion and purpose. Every church is a generation away from being a non-factor in their community. If the leadership doesn’t keep their hands on the wheel and their foot on the gas, the church will eventually decline and die. If there isn’t a constant reminder that church is not about us but about Him, the church will become a self-absorbed, navel gazing religious relic.
Some will argue that some churches have a lifespan and have to die. That’s because we’ve watched so many churches die through the ages, that we’ve accepted it as normal. It’s not the norm. It shouldn’t be the norm. We have the same Holy Spirit they had in Acts chapter 2. Yet, through the ages, we’ve let the enemy make the church a joke instead of it being a force to be reckoned with. Denominations turn toward liberalism. Churches lose their first love. Pastors preach to please people instead of being God-called prophets. Committees and boards take the place of prayer meetings. Before you know it, the church is just a group of like-minded people who want nothing to change. Like a baby who cries when their mother changes their formula, the whining replaces the witness. The sun goes down on the day of opportunity.
The prophets were disgusted with form without force and ritual without reality. The Lord Jesus wanted to throw up when He looked upon the lukewarm Laodiceans. Have we gotten on our faces lately and asked Jesus what He thinks about what we are doing to His church? Charles Finney had a sermon entitled, “How to Preach So As to Convert Nobody.” One way, he said, was to preach about sin but never mention any of the sins of the congregation. F. B. Meyer said, “We must particularize till conscience cries, ‘You are the man.'”
Vance Havner said, “A mortician can make a dead man look better than he ever did when he was alive. So churches like Sardis may appear very much alive when they are dead in the sight of the Lord. There are experts who are very clever at this business of making church corpses appear very healthy so that they have an image for robust vitality in their own sight, among other churches, and up at headquarters – but God knows the difference.”