I grew up in a distinctly non-charismatic fellowship of churches. Many of our preachers thought you had to be boring to be non-charismatic, and unfortunate interpretation for any audience. As a result of our lack of charisma, personal or theological, we didn’t talk much about revival.
Revival is what the Pentecostals did under a tent, with a sweaty preacher stalking back and forth. “Normal” Christians kept their cool — and did a really good job, I might add.
Since we didn’t talk much about revival, we didn’t see much of it either.
Recently I’ve read several articles (again) about the decline of church attendance among various denominational groups. The tribe of my youth is one of those who have experienced continual decline. The result has been not only few people attending church but fewer churches to attend. It’s not unique to any one particular fellowship, tradition, or denomination. If we were to be honest (which I believe all Christians should be), we — the collective, all-inclusive we — are losing ground. Fast.
The population is growing much faster than we are adding new believers, much less new churches to replace the ones closing down.
Within 15-20 minutes of where I am sitting are churches of various stripes. Over the past 25-50 years, these neigbhorhoods have changed two or three times. Churches that were once vibrant and filled with life are now virtually empty and on life support. Many of them are on the verge of becoming the next 7-11 or nightclub.
That breaks my heart. It should break your’s.
These are kingdom properties that are the result of the blood, sweat, and tears of believers who loved God and wanted to build a church to reach their community. The walls represent sacrifice, the auditoriums contain memories of baptisms, weddings, and funerals. Hundreds of thousands of people will be in heaven because of the influence of these churches. Many of today’s most effective pastors were raised in these churches, taught be faithful Sunday School teachers, and allowed to preach their first sermons in these buildings. Yet today these churches are but a shell of what they once had been.
In metropolitan areas like the ones I’ve lived in — San Diego, San Francisco, and Denver — it’s especially heart-breaking to see these churches go under because it is too costly to reacquire an equal amount of land or square footage. Once a church property goes commercial, it rarely ever goes back to being a church. The current market value of land and construction is too cost prohibitive to replace these churches with new ones. The kingdom loses an asset, a neighborhood loses an opportunity, and the collective church suffers.
Now, I know what some of you might be thinking. I once thought like you do.
“Every church has a life cycle and this is just the natural order of things.” “No church can last for ever.” “These churches are dying for a reason.”
At face-value, I actually agree with those statements. Things start and things end. Many of these churches are on life support because they failed to adapt to changing circumstances.
I’m not recommending pumping good money into an organization that refuses to change. Nor am I suggesting that many of these churches can be turned around without significant time, sacrifice, and effort.
Here’s what I am suggesting. Larger, healthier churches should feel some obligation for helping redeem kingdom assets. To only be content with building your own church seems a bit short-sighted to me. In certain cases, these struggling churches provide a ready-made avenue for new ministry to flow into the community through a neighborhing church. It might be a satellite campus or a replant. Or it could be a ministry sandbox where younger pastors and staff members gain valuable experience.
But this will require humility and kingdom-mindedness on the part of the small, struggling church. The dream that gave birth to the church must be revived — even if it means the dream is passed on to a new generation or a new church. We must care more about the growth of God’s kingdom than preserving our own little slice of history.
I believe this kind of kingdom mindedness is developing among today’s church leaders. I also believe we will see a growing partnership between churches all across the growth spectrum.
The bottom line is this: we must do something different. To expect different results by doing the same things is insanity. To try something different, even a lot different, will require faith. Lots of it. That’s when God will show up and do more than we can ask or imagine.