american christianity, better things, Christianity, church, current-events, dying churches, hope, jake kaufman, Jesus, Jesus Christ, kingdom of Jesus, movie theater churches, programs, religion, shrinking churches, spirituality, tradition
Nine lonely, despondent-looking church buildings impose themselves on the landscape of my daily commute. They seem so sad, and so stubborn with their dilapidated steeples, corny marquee signs, and fading paint trimming their windows.
They seem to want my attention, but you get a sense that they might not know what to do with it if I were to oblige.
They come in different sizes; each with a different name, a different background and a different story. Sometimes I wonder about those stories. How did these churches start?
That question really steals my attention some days.
Did they used to be energetic communities bent on changing the world? Were they a rebel crowd escaped (or, exiled) from some other church across town? Were they the only ones around that took the brave steps to build a church together? Was there a confident bullhorn preacher leading the charge? Or, was it simply a community of men and women, coming together to express something they couldn’t quite wrap their minds around?
And, just what happened along the way?
What caused them to give up? Or at least, to stay? I suppose that’s a bit judgmental of me; but, I tend to lump giving up and staying put in the same category. Did in-fighting leave them tired and defeated? Did they fail at their mission one too many times? Did their bullhorn preacher stop inspiring them? Did they find themselves out of money and out of energy and out of touch as a new generation roamed their streets?
And, what are they left with now?
I’ve been in enough shrinking churches to know the feeling of pride in the glory days and sadness in the current days that tends to hang thick in the air. You get a sense that the ones left are a bit befuddled by the whole thing; the way that culture and life has kind of just passed them by, and left them with hefty mortgages, squabbling members, and endless business meetings. Even the old hymnals remind the congregants of what once was, but offer little inkling into what might be.
I feel overwhelmingly sad for them. They more than likely don’t understand their fate. They are more than likely accepting of their status quo. A bit surprisingly, they remind me of myself.
I settle too easily for a moment, rather than a movement. In a world where churches meet in movie theaters, school cafeteria’s, and house basements, I am too easily content to just show up, bid my time, and get to lunch. I get the sense that the people in these church buildings are much the same way. We’ve replaced the adventure of faith with the convenience of showing up.
And yet, still, somewhere in those buildings and business meetings, there is a faint rhythm of redemption.
You’ll find it in the smiles, and laughter, and hugs, and pats on backs, and neighborly acts of kindness. You’ll catch a glance of it in the eyes of ornery old men and sweet old ladies. You’ll get a feel for it in the family bonds that tend to keep these churches open. And you’ll sense it in the prayers, some tear-filled, asking for God to pull through.
I find myself often wondering how all of this fits into the grand story of the kingdom of God oozing through the cracks of a falling apart world; how any of this matters in the grand scheme of things.
I wonder if it’s possible for God to rewrite their stories; to bring them back to life. I wonder if there are any wild, adventurous hearts stirring up new things in those falling apart buildings. I wonder if it’s not best for some of these churches to shut their doors so that something new can happen. And I wonder how any of this steals the headlines in a world where more people than ever are involved in slavery, where children die daily because they don’t have clean water, and where people groups are openly persecuted, bullied, and kicked out in the name of Jesus and “truth.”
Those nine lonely, despondent-looking churches remind me everyday that it’s important to allow our imaginations to run wild with God. It’s essential that we question everything, embrace change as a way of growing and not giving in, and make sure that we find our faith more in Jesus than in our trendiness or traditional preferences.
Those nine little churches remind me that despite our good intentions, honest mistakes, catastrophic failures, poor attitudes, tired worship, weak efforts, and arrogant stances; there is still a Kingdom, filled with grace, bringing hope and redemption and life to the broken-hearted and the dreamer, the timid and the adventurer, the beggar and the investor. This kingdom isn’t a place built on meetings and programs, but on impossible love and bold creativity.
THAT kingdom will never find itself dying out.