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GUEST POST ~ How Should We Think About Record Numbers of Churches Closing?

The Great Replacement

By Mike Glenn

As I have admitted before, I’m a sucker for sacred spaces. I love old churches. I love sitting in  a classically built sanctuary and watching the light play through the panes of the stained glass windows. I love the quiet solitude of sitting in a pew and praying. We’re losing these places. For one thing, we can’t afford to build them anymore. That’s why I cringe every time I see that a church has been sold to a developer to turn into a condominium or shopping center. 

According to the experts, we are in a crisis in North America. Churches are closing at record numbers. Once vital, even famous congregations, are having to close their doors because of  failing attendance and as a result, falling financial support. Experts around the country are holding conferences and writing books telling us how we can turn this crisis around. Their suggestions run from changing preaching and music styles to rethinking our basic theology. 

In our panic, the one thing we haven’t done is focus on the obvious. What are the obvious facts we are overlooking?

First, nothing lasts forever, not even a good church. While Jesus did promise that hell wouldn’t prevail over his church, He made no such promise for every individual church. Churches are founded, serve their communities, and when those communities change or die out, their churches die with them.  I know it sounds counter intuitive, but sometimes, it's OK for a church to die. Like any well lived life, we need to celebrate the church, express our grief at its loss and then move on.

Funerals are a part of life, even for churches. 

Another reason churches are dying is they become obsolete. Obsolete things are discarded and replaced. We live in a disposable world. Everything is made to wear out. Mobile phones need to be updated and replaced at regular intervals. Cars wear out and new ones, or slightly used ones, need to be bought. Our entire world economy thrives on building and selling things to replace things that have worn out.  Churches wear out. The ministries and programs that once made the church “cutting edge” become dated and stale. Student ministries have to be updated to incorporate current social tastes. Technology changes. Screens replace the paintings of the Jordan River over the baptismal pool. If you don’t keep up, you get left behind. It’s that way in business, sports, movies and even games like golf. Change is the only constant in our world.

While we should expect some congregations to die, they shouldn’t be dying at the rate they are. Then, why? Sadly, too many churches have abandoned the mission. There is almost universal agreement on the mission of the church — to make disciples of Jesus by fulfilling the Great Commission. Most churches have forgotten this. They think the church exists to serve their members. The business community serves its stockholders. When church leadership adopts this philosophy, they begin to focus on the membership of the church rather than the lost around them. The membership, after all, does pay for the church budget, so, shouldn’t the staff focus on taking care of their needs?

In a word, no. The church has to focus on its community. Feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, giving aid to every disadvantaged person and yes, sharing the good news of Jesus. The focus on members is for yes, their care, but also their training and deployment in ministry and mission. The old preachers tell a story about some churches being like cruise ships and other churches being like battleships. Cruise ships focus on taking care of their passengers. Battleships don’t have passengers. They have sailors and sailors are focused on the mission. 

When churches are no longer focused on the mission, they no longer have a reason to exist. And yes, in my ministry, I’ve talked to a lot of churches who were focused more on their own comfort than the community around them. The first clue is when one of the members asks, “What about us?” 

When a church abandons the mission, another church is born to replace it. Now, we aren’t replacing churches in the numbers we need, not yet anyway, but we are replacing them. In fact, not all of the closing churches need to be replaced, but more do than not. In time, we’ll catch up. The Spirit will make sure of it. We serve a God of infinite resources. If one church won’t stay faithful to the mission, God will find one that will. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed to anyone – including churches. 

That’s hard. 

That’s the truth. 

The mission is our life. Without it, we’re just another non-profit community organization.

Our mission is the reason we exist. If we aren’t faithful to our calling, we don’t have a reason to be here at all. 

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​Deconstructing or Reconstructing Faith​?
​Phil Miglioratti @ The Remagine.Network

Most pastors have heard of deconstruction and some say they’ve seen it in their pews, but no one knows exactly what faith deconstruction means.
Just because someone is re-evaluating what they believe, doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve quit believing entirely.”​ ​ Li​z​zy Haselstine
#ItSeemsToMe…some ​evangelicals ​are deconstructing but many of us are reconstructing. Inviting a Spirit-led, Scripture-fed review and, as necessary, revision of the containers we have designed to ​carry, the templates we have constructed to ​codify​,​ our beliefs and perspectives. A faith journey to ​assess where​ true faith ​has been contaminated or compromised by traditions​​ and​/or​ cultural biases ​we have​ begun to think of as correct - faultless - universal expressions of Holy Scripture
“Many have been influenced by culture instead of by the church” ​(LH) ... ​but reconstruction recognizes that ​norms and standards of ​culture have also influenced the church. Identifying ​customs-traditions-values that steer or dilute Scripture is essential to both personal ​discipleship ​and corporate ​culture​.
“People rely on their circumstances to create their worldviews” ​(LH) ... ​but so does our theologizing. Our creedal statements remain foundational but our interpretations and applications need constant​,​ thoughtful reflection ​to​ identif​y​ perspectives that are based ​up​on ​or shaped by​our tribal​/temporal​ context.
“Before we self-righteously point fingers at someone questioning God, take time to consider what that person may have gone through or be facing and pray for them. When someone is deconstructing their faith, it is not a time to criticize or be skeptical of them but to love them well”​ (LH) ...​ and to listen. They may have wisdom from the Spirit that applies to us as well.​ Failure to listen and learn will only result in more deconstruction (unbelief) than reconstruction (renewed belief).
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