It was my tribe. It was who I was spiritually. Then.
On this day, a Sunday, I came in about 20 minutes after the service started. I hate that "where have you been" drama when visiting an old fellowship.
There were 19 cars in the parking lot. Fewer than 50 people in attendance. Mostly older.
The tribe had left town. The few hangers on were simply keeping the pews from tipping over.
I was grieved, and then I heard the Lord say, "Don't mourn. Some churches must die for new life to come". What happened to all those people? Churches worry about the people. I know the history of some of them. They didn't go off and backslide into deep sin. Some are now part of growing vital congregations in the same town. Some went off and planted new churches elsewhere. Some died. Some attached themselves to a less charismatic fellowship out of choice. And some left for a more charismatic church. They weren't gone, just reseeded in live fellowships.
I was reminded by Holy Spirit that the church, the original church, the Hyperchurch in JERUSALEM died. 70AD. Those people were scattered. They went lots of places. They took it with them. Some for better. A few for worse. The churches of Paul's epistles all died. They are dust and ruins now. Every church dies. The CHURCH never does. Don't mourn for the small c church when it dies.
I was in a conference with Stan Toler some years ago. He's a church growth specialist. He told a story of a church in Chicago. One that was in a neighborhood that had changed. It was no longer an old white German area, but now had a very different ethnic profile. The leadership of the church that at one time had 500 people recognized that with about 40 people in Sunday attendance, there was no more hope to build it back. Plus they had a HUGE legacy account. As folks died they had left large stashes of money to the Church. When the decision to shut it down came, the church building was given to a vital African American congregation in the area. The money in the Legacy accounts was distributed to missions in the name of the Church. Those few saints left were introduced to small congregations. The building is now once again full of the spirit of God. THE CHURCH (Capital C didn't die, the church (small c) did. Should we mourn for that? I don't think so.
Right now there are pastors, congregations, elders, leaders who are part of a dead or dying church. It looks like there is no hope. There may not be. Perhaps it's time to start over, a new church plant.
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
I know of a Dutch Reformed church in South Holland IL that was faced with just such a situation. The congregation was in conflict. The people were not in agreement for the future. The church was falling apart. Fortunately denominational leadership stepped in. They did one of the wisest things I ever heard. They shut it down. Fired everyone. Closed the door. Told all the people left to go away. For 3 months there was no activity. They really wanted to see everyone gone. Then after a time they found a senior leader with the guts to take this on. He came, they repainted, remodeled, changed the name on the door from something like first reformed church etc to a name like Destiny or Son Life. Fresh. New. He in essence planted a new church in an old building. Yes it was still connected to the Dutch Reformed denomination but you would never know it. After a total rework, he opened the doors. Quietly. People started coming. He had assembled a good team, worship, pastoral care all the things one needs to make it work.
Some of the old dogs came back. They demanded that THEY had started this thing and they would be back in charge. He told them to leave and never come back. Protests came, but fizzled. Now today it is a vital congregation, mixed in racial profile. Very strong outreach. No one that is there even remembers the former days. There is no history and tradition to recall. All is new. All is fresh. The old church died... and the real CHURCH thrives.
“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland". Isaiah 43:18-19
When a church no longer has life, it is already dead even though is seems to be still breathing. In Hinsdale there is a wing of a hospital I am told that specializes in people who cannot breath and they keep them alive by artificial respiratory machines. Iron lung like. Sometimes the people pass away and yet the machine keeps the dead body breathing. That is very much like what is happening in many churches.
A while back I prophesied that when the 2008 collapse of the economy happened, there would be many churches that would not make it to 2018 because of the changes coming. Economics would be the result of not understanding the times but that it would be a great opportunity for those with vision to fill those empty church halls with vital growing saints of God full of passion for the Kingdom.
That is happening. I attended a service being held in an old Auto Dealership building. Another is in an old K-Mart building. That is one source of facilities dynamic new fellowships are using, but another are the sanctuaries once dedicated to the work of the Lord. Some of them so dedicated are now restaurants, private residences and discotheques. The very first church I recall growing up in my home town is now someone's home. I don't think that's God's best. Would HE not be more please to see real life in those once so dedicated buildings rather than disco?
Death and new life. It's all a part of the cycle. Lion King.
Don't mourn. In fact, if it's dying, last rites are in order.