Sometimes disaster has to strike in someone’s life for them to have a “come to Jesus” moment. Finally, the lightbulb comes on…they are mortal…they will eventually die…and there is nothing like a brush with death to remind someone of their own frailty and their need for God.
What is true of individuals can be true of churches. Churches can go through extremely difficult situations that result in helping them (or forcing them) to come to grips with reality. This can take on many forms but the result is a reminder that congregations don’t last forever…if a given congregation wants to exist in 10, 25 and 50 years…there are adjustments that will have to be made.
Whatever the case may be, in all of these instances…whether personal or congregational…one would hope that people could have learned the lesson without having to go through all the mess. You wish you could have the beauty without the ashes. It is too easy to get lulled into a sense that everything is ok, even when it isn’t and we cost along on autopilot thinking those things will never happen to us or never happen to our congregation…but they can and they will and we pray to God that we will be ready to take what could be devastating events and have God turn them into something beautiful that couldn’t have happened otherwise. There are churches every year that close their doors because they ignored the warning signs. There are other churches that are small but steady to growing because they recognized “the moment”…when reality struck and they made some shifts. It is important that we pay attention to the warning signs that often flash but no one is paying attention.
Not all churches are as healthy as the numbers seem to indicate. One of the things that concerns me for the future of the church is that a lot of churches are “hanging in there” due to transfer growth. As some churches die, other churches get the transfers. What might look like a congregation whose attendance numbers are holding steady or even slightly growing might actually only be the result of 3 or 4 other churches in their community dying and those members coming over to the other congregation. One might mistake that growth for successful ministry or effective outreach but it isn’t the case. The result can easily be a church on auto-pilot…that is, until there are no more members of dying churches to transfer over and the real decline becomes obvious.
Point being, we can’t wait until disaster strikes to realize that church is serious business and the things we are called to do are serious business. We have to be proactive, intentional, biblical and passionate about our Lord and His church.
Hi Matt, I think that the congregation I am part of is in that situation. The numbers dwindled quite massively, and we lost our building, as a lot of members and their families were posted elsewhere, so that we are currently reduced to three individuals, two of whom are semi-invalids. Moreover, our church is the only church of Christ in a fairly large area – it takes me about three hours to get there and back, because of ferry and bus connections. I’d love to hear of some way out of this, but there doesn’t seem to be much change on the horizon.
Jim, one very helpful book on this is “To Dream Again” by Robert Dale. He goes through congregational life cycles from birth to death and how to turn the ship from any given point. It is a very small book, quick read and inexpensive.
Thanks Matt, I’ll give it a go.