Have you ever watched someone or something die a slow death? It’s painful watching a once vibrant, and quick, mind become dull and slow. Especially before they recognize it themselves. The life in their eyes gradually dims, and you realize their fragility, humanity. And your own.
Many have been, or are, first hand witnesses to this in the mainline denominations that still form the bulwark of Christianity here in America.
But times they are a changing. There are Evangelicals on the Canterbury trail, those swimming the Tiber, those Emerging from something, those looking past Rome to Constantinople, those who gather in living rooms, and those content to sit in their favorite pew thinking things are just going through some cycle, and will be “all right”.
We traveled to another town three hours away for a football game two Friday’s ago. It was a quaint little southern town, that has remained about the same for the last 40 years. But one very obvious change stood out. The local Episcopal Church, a small yet attractive brick structure evoking thoughts of a solid, prosperous, and upstanding congregation, was closed.
The windows were broken, and boarded up, and the grass about a foot high, bushes unkempt.
Empty. God’s house, His banquet table, was empty. There was no one there to serve food, to wash dishes, to care for His guests, His flock. The Shepherd’s were gone, and the flock had moved on, joined other flocks, or been devoured by wolves.
This is not an isolated incident, it’s perhaps the future of Evangelical America, in probably less time than we realize.
I’ve seen other churches, in other towns, in a similar condition. These are not churches in a dying part of town, it’s just that their message was not relevant to the masses.
Which may be part of our problem, after all, so long as numbers are important. If we have a budget to meet, targets to hit, high attendance day figures to surpass, we will be preaching a gospel that tickles itching ears.
Not one that brings life, change, and revolution.
I know a church where the Pastor gets paid a buck a head for every person that shows up on Sunday. The ushers conduct a head count as they pass the plate, and the Pastor himself counts heads from the pulpit as the choir sings, in order to verify the body count. I have this on very good authority. I kid you not.
So what happens when attendance begins to drop at a church like this? Panic, call in church growth gurus, call all of those less faithful members and urge them to come.
What if we loved them, fed them, tenderly cared for them? For our brothers and sisters. What if the holiness, love, and power of the Holy Spirit surged through us, manifesting Himself as only He could?
I think history tells us, the Word tells us, that the way is narrow. There is always just a remnant, tucked into the hem of His robe.