According to some church-watchers, about one out of every five Christian churches in North America will close their doors in the next year and sell the building. Not a happy prospect. It’s true that a wimpy, feeble, member-centric church is not always an honor to God, but closing it is not the only option.
We all know that before the church board makes the decision to put the For Sale sign up in the front yard there comes a time called “knee time.” Spiritual battles are only won with spiritual weapons. Before we do anything, we seek to know the mind of God. But what to do while we are waiting for a revelation?
A pastor friend recently said, “We begin to grow when we take responsibility for the growth of another person.” Aha. Maybe we’re on to something here.
Let me tell you a story I’m watching unfold…
The setting is a small, struggling congregation that has lost its vision. This is not a Covid-19 issue, it’s a loss-of-vision issue. Twenty-five may show up for a regular worship service; half what it was ten years ago. All of them are members; no guests. Virtually no impact on their community. If you’d ask around town what this church is known for, some answers might be something like, “They’re not even known.”
But then… Then, some of the leaders came together. To pray. “God, what should we be known for?” “God, we don’t desire to be the best church in the county, we want to be the best church for the county.” “God, how can we reach out to our neighbors and friends and let them know how we value them and how we’d like to bless them?” I suspect that’s the kind of prayer that sets bells ringing in heaven.
So, next thing you know, the church has left the building. They chose a section of town that was not the high rent district. They went door-to-door and asked the question, “Do you know anyone on this street who might need some food?” If the answer was No, a follow-up might be, “Well, we have some bread and peanut butter, some breakfast cereal and a few cans of soup in the car…can we leave some of that with you?” Interestingly, almost no one refused.
Before leaving the porch the callers ask, “Are you folks Christians?” If the answer was Yes, the response would be, “That’s wonderful; can we say a prayer for your family?” If the answer to the first question was No, the caller would lead into a simple invitation to accept Jesus. First day out, two precious people prayed to receive the gift of salvation Christ offers. They will need additional mentoring, but every journey begins with a simple decision.
The point of this piece is that “we begin to grow when we take responsibility for the growth of another.” The atmosphere in the congregation has taken on a new energy. A new joy. The death spiral is reversed. They’re beginning to be seen as a congregation whose members genuinely care for those in need and for whom Jesus Christ is central. Not a bad definition of church.
By Don Jacobsen