When churches close

A few years ago a church marquis caught my attention. It read something to the effect of: Our final worship service. Come worship with us.

It was their final worship service, and I felt led to be there. When I told my wife how I would spend that Sunday evening, she gave me that strange look.

I’m grateful I went. I know it sounds sad for a church to close. Indeed, there was grief. But there was also the strong reminder that God’s kingdom always outlasts us. I left encouraged by God.

As it turned out, I knew a pastor who served the church before. I spoke with him and a few others there who were former pastors of the congregation. I asked the simple question, “What happened?”

It was a familiar story. All-too familiar. An aging congregation with little membership growth. The point that stood out to me was the growing list of building maintenance issues. The building became too much of a financial burden.

Again, that’s pretty standard. It’s so common Hollywood has produced movies that start with that kind of plot: a church is in desperate need to repair the roof and the boiler. Only a miracle could keep the church from closing.

More and more of us have noticed this prevailing story. There are some who offer easy step-by-step models to turn around a church in trouble. “Just do this and stop doing that,” they might say. It worked for them they’ll tell you.

Now, to be sure, there are things a lot of churches need to stop doing and things they should start doing. That’s an ongoing conversation that needs attention and courage.

For today, though, let’s consider something.

It’s becoming more obvious that the form of church most of us are familiar with is already changing. I’m convinced my children’s future worship will be significantly different than the worship we’ve known as a family.

And that isn’t a loss for me. I’ve never been one to hold on to the form of worship. Instead, it’s a kingdom reminder.

If my children will worship at all in the future, what we do today has to have meaning. Have I prioritized more the form of worship or the point of worship to them? The focus of worship or the enjoyment of worship?

One could get the impression King Solomon jumped in and started building the house of the Lord. The way 1 Kings 6 reads, it was time and he started building. But there’s more to it than that. He prepared for this. For years, he prepared.

Before that, for more than four hundred years, the people of God did fine without a Temple. But this was something new God wanted Solomon to do. Or not; some people suggest God didn’t want one.

Then the Temple was gone.

That’s what temples can do.

Whatever worship will look like in the next decades is both out of and within our control. For all I don’t know about what will be, I can tell you something for sure. We need preparation. Whatever’s next won’t just fall out of the sky.

We can help those after us follow God’s lead by helping them prepare.

What are we teaching about worship? How are we expressing worship? How does worship shape the community of faith God wants to build?

See? This has always been more about merely going to church.

Stay blessed…john

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