The Dying Church
“This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace.” (Colossians 1:6 NLT)
Bill Hybels has a line that he is famous for often repeating that goes something along the lines of, “I believe the local church is the hope of the world.” But if you travel across the Western world, people might have a slightly different take on the church. In Europe, many of the once vibrant churches are now simply visited as historical markers. They serve as a grim reminder that many Christian churches are dying in the West. And while America does not have as many historic religious venues as Europe does, we can still see a similar trend happening in our country when you really look around.
I was in Castle Rock, Colorado, for Christmas with my family, and we went downtown one morning to eat breakfast. Directly across the street from where we were eating was an old church building that had been converted into a restaurant and tavern. It is a pretty cool looking restaurant called The Old Stone Church Restaurant. This church that was built in 1888 has been converted into something far more “practical,” a restaurant. I couldn’t help but wonder how many times this happens: a church becomes useless to the surrounding community, so the building is converted to serve a greater purpose.
We ask the question all of the time at Harris Creek, “If we were gone tomorrow, would anyone notice or miss us?” This is the driving energy behind what we do at Harris Creek, because we happen to align with Bill Hybels in believing that the local church should be the hope of the world. Yet studies show that most outsiders only think of churches as judgmental, hypocritical places. Perhaps this is because we are known more by what we stand against rather than what we stand for. This is why Harris Creek has focused so much on supporting things like our Mother’s Day Out program, Kaleo Arts Academy, Sharefest, Manna Works Construction, and Mission Waco. We want to be known as an advocate that helps solve problems, not as protestors that complain about a secular worldview.
Whatever it is, the statistics in the West are in and churches are failing miserably. We have more churches closing their doors each week than ever before in the history of the Church. But while some people see this trend as a reason to push the panic button, I see it as a positive development. Without meaning to be cold hearted, I have to admit that I’m ok with churches “dying” and closing their doors if they are ineffective. I’ve seen first-hand too many churches that operate as an inflexible organization rather than a living organism. And most of the time these organizations are willing to go to the grave with the “way we’ve always done things.” When this starts to happen, I think the natural life cycle is to let those churches “die” so that something new and vibrant can spring up from that very ground.
In my opinion churches and ministers spend far too much time wondering why people are going to church any more these days. I tend to agree with Leonard Sweet when he says, “The problem of the church is not non-church going people, but non-going churches.” And we live in such a world today that people will replace the church with something functional if it is not serving its purpose in the world.
I understand that the church will always have an issue with “bad press”; we’re never going to be loved by the world as long as we’re still following Christ. But this does not mean we should remove ourselves from the world, either. I believe this is why 1 Peter 2:12 tells us to be known by outsiders for our good deeds, so that we can glorify God for all to see. And when this happens, you see new life spring from the ground that changes lives all over the world, just as it has been doing from the very beginning. That is why the local church is the hope of the world.