The Death of a Church
There is a church that I have been watching through the years since I was a child. It is a sad story, but one I do believe we can learn from.
When I first met this church I was nine years old and visiting family. I remember the family feeling there, and the friendliness of the people. I remember that it was fun to sing with the congregation, and fellowship dinners were great. I remember playing with my eight cousins who lived in the parsonage, a lovely family home right next to the church.
During my college years I was there from time to time. Although a small church in a small town there was a group of young people my age who were happy to participate in Sunday School and church activities. The church was not "growing" in numbers, but was healthy.
I am not sure what was the beginning of the decline, since I was not there all the time, but these are my observations.
I think the first thing that happened was that the church went through some difficult financial times. This combined with the lack of numerical growth caused the people to go into "protective mode." This is evidenced by reluctance to take risks for fear of losing people or money. They became frozen with fear.
The next thing that happened is that someone died and left the church a lot of money. With this money they bought a piece of land and put up a nice new building, all on one level, nice kitchen and fellowship area, good parking. They acquired a new parsonage. However, it was not as large or family oriented as the older one. This was a two bedroom house with very small kitchen and living room. Very adequate for an older couple, but small for a young family with children, and not big enough to do any entertaining, even on a small scale. The message I get from this is that the minister and family is not a high priority, as if they are expecting to hire retired or semi-retired or part time preachers only. In order to save money, I am pretty sure.
As far as I know, none of the donated money was used on supporting missionaries, on youth programs, or on outreach into the community. Whatever was not spent on the building was put into the bank and saved, "in case of hard times." This reinforced the move from reaching out to "protecting ourselves". The people then would not feel like the work of the church depended on their giving anymore, it had its own money. People became less invested in the church.
Along with this there was one elder who wanted things done his way, which was to keep things as they were to protect what they had.
This brought in a shift in priorities. An example of this is that when they were furnishing the new auditorium it was suggested that they put in the middle two shorter pews to accommodate people in wheelchairs. This was turned down because "it wouldn't look nice." Thus the appearance of the building took priority over the needs of people. Later when my aunt, in a wheelchair, started going to church there, her only choice was to either sit in the back by herself, or sit in the isle by her family, stuck out and feeling very conspicuous and in the way.
They made an effort to update the service by having a praise team help to lead. But there were no longer any young people, so the youngest person on the team was in her sixties, and they helped to lead the traditional hymns from the book, with the traditional piano and organ on opposite sides of the room to accompany. (This is not to say that older people don't belong on a praise team, or that we shouldn't sing hymns anymore. What I am saying is that worship should be focused on God, not on slapping on new methods on to the surface of the old style.)
There are very few people left in the church. Many have died, a few have left. My hope is that other churches will take the warning, and will be willing to take risks to reach out to people, change things to serve people, spend the money that God has given them on things that God wants to have done. God will protect his church, we don't have to do it. God will provide for his work if we will do it. Have faith in God and absolute belief in the message we have to give the world. Let's do it!