Up until this week, I had never heard of a church just closing its doors that I had been involved in. Unfortunately, that streak has now been broken. When I think about this church, I can't help but think about what might have been. When I started there, I saw potential...real potential to actually reach the community that they were planted in. I drove through nearby neighborhoods and saw young families and 55-and-over mobile-home parks. I saw people that were so rich they never had to want for anything, people that were so poor they didn't have a safe home to live in, and people who waffled between those two. I saw people who longed for a church in their community and who prayed with people and led people to the Lord and who sought God about what changes He wanted to make in their lives. I saw a window of opportunity to help God's church grow. I knew that if that didn't happen, the church would die.
All living things do that, don't they? If something that is alive doesn't grow or change or adapt or mature, it will die. We expect that to happen with people, but I don't know that we can ever really be prepared for the day when churches do. We expect them to always be there, even if we aren't. We think those doors will always be open, ready to receive us whenever we decide to return. But that only happens if people inside are ready to do that.
On the heels of hearing this news, I read an article by Thom Rainer called "Four Types of Dying Churches". Evidently, this happens far too often, and someone is actually paying attention. This means that the good people at churchleaders.com are compiling data and stories and examples and are trying to help us learn from it. Here is what he said:
"Too many churches are dying. And the rate of dying churches is accelerating. I am concerned. Certainly from a biblical perspective, I understand the bride of Christ will be victorious. I understand the gates of hell will not prevail against her, but that does not mean individual congregations won’t die. They are, they will...unless God intervenes."
I wish God would've intervened in the church that I heard about...really, I wish people would've let Him. That's the thing about Him - He will never push His way in. He could, but that's just not His style. He gives us the freedom to choose to invite Him in. I think we forget that sometimes - I know I have. Any time we move away from getting together to worship Him and thank Him for the "great things He hath done", that's when we get into trouble. When we start thinking it is our greatness that makes the church go, that's when we are on the verge of stopping.
The book of Colossians offers us a remedy; it actually offers a lot of them! This was a letter Paul wrote to "God's holy people", where he raved about them. He had heard of their faith in Jesus and talked about how the Gospel was bearing fruit in them ever since they heard about and understood God's grace. And then, after pumping them up for the great work they were carrying on, he reminds them of one thing they should continue to remember so that they can continue to grow:
"For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (Colossians 1:13-14)
Remember when I told you that Paul was writing to "holy" people? In order for a church to continue to advance against that darkness, holiness needs to be what we long for. It is healthy for a church full of holy people to think about where God has brought them from. It can strengthen us when we thank Him for bringing us into a kingdom that we couldn't enter without His help. That's why we need Jesus; it's also why we need to continue to tell people about the freedom He offers. This is also a good place for us to stop and consider all of the other people He did the same thing for. One of the greatest things about church is all the people He brings into a worshipping community. And one of the most challenging things about church is us allowing Him to show us how to get along together.
As you pray this week, do me a favor: stop and think about what darkness He brought you FROM. Then, think about and thank Him for bringing you INTO this kingdom. Finally, spend some time in prayer thanking Him for the all (yes, ALL) of the other people He is bringing in as well. If we will do that, we will remember that, without Him, we wouldn't belong here. It will make us appreciate what work He has done, and it will help us long for Him to use us to do the work that still needs to be done.
Look around your city, your job, your subdivision...there is still work to be done. There are still people who need to hear about the hope we have, so we can't go dying on Him just yet. What growth does God want to bring about in you this week?