It’s not exactly breaking news or news that would be of interest of many, but in the so-called very religious United States of America, on an average day in the United States, nine churches close their doors for good.
Some years ago we heard nothing but ‘good news’ of mega-churches filling with enthusiastic crowds. There was a whole movement going on, with very large stages (nearly stadiums) sprouting up from the ground, where people were being inspired by a preacher who was very clever at extracting money from his audience. Many of those mega-churches were more like circuses, providing lots of entertainment and even lotteries. Churches with multi-site campuses, parking garages, jumbo-trons, award-winning praise bands, laser shows, tremendous charities, political endorsements, and even in-house coffee shops sprang up across the American nation, where people were pushed to be part of that ‘church unity’ and should show their affection with that church by buying their publications and ‘funding their church’.
For some years Americans had taken church as a consumer destination, like a restaurant, a cruise ship, a mall, or a resort! There they wanted to find such entertainment that could carry themselves away from daily worries.
Entertainment had won over discipleship, but they forgot that after some time people get used to certain entertainment and want something new. After some years, the glamour of novelty has disappeared and when looking for something new people started to find of the same keg. The whole hype of the mega-church seemed to become a candle that turned out to be burned out, or an oil lamp that ran out of fresh oil.
After some years, more and more images appeared on the television screen, where such mega-church preachers, especially from the evangelical field, displayed their wealth and how they did not live according to the words they preached and did ask their listeners to abide by them, because otherwise they would be damned to burn in hell forever.
Abandoned churches have become such hot property for wannabe home renovators that entire websites are dedicated to their sale.
Church professionals know the trends: church membership and religious affiliation are declining. Relatively few churches are growing. At times the small amount of people attending a service can become frustrating. I admit myself that I (at my age and with my bad health) could not bring up anymore to travel twice more than 300 km, to do a service in Paris just for a couple of people (12 to 17 attending). Doing more than 600 km just for one service for such a few people took too much energy from me that I stopped going to Paris. Only for the Passover service it was great to find around 45 people attending. In American terms that can be not much, but here at the European continent, that is quite well a good attendance. Even the Roman Catholic Churches have not many people anymore at their Sunday service. In my village, there is only a Sunday service once a month. Even the Easter and Christmas services are not so much attended anymore. It is a huge difference from the 1960s when those churches were packed and in each church there were then three to four services for that ‘sacred day’.
In the U.S.A. there is also the importance of demography. The population category plays an important role, having white, black, Hispanic, Puerto Rican, Mexican a.o.. There, the same as here, is the problem of the ageing population, having the newer generation not interested in God. The great majority of the Anglo population is either ageing or facing other transitions in many American parishes.
Everywhere we can find many dying congregations. Not one denomination seems able to escape the trend. Even the very popular Pentecostals face a diminishing trend.
Especially in the coming times we should remember how the apostle Paul reminds us to look at the Body of Christ (the Church) as a human body. Those parts that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. If one part suffers, every part suffers; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. Not all parts work with the same force or can do their job as well as we would wish. Some parts are less presentable than others, but still, we are to care for all. We are to look especially after those parts that suffer.
You could say that as members of the body of Christ we have a role to play in that body and should take up our responsibility. It is the responsibility of all of us who love and serve the church to go out and to bring people into Christ’s Body, having them to see that is the Way. When we notice people are from a community that is ‘sick’ or ‘going to die’, we should try to help them to recover and to direct them to help restore health to their community so that it can survive.
Just as in a very affected person, heart failure may require resuscitation, resuscitation for a church may also seem necessary. We should be there, ready to help and provide a chest compression.
Though because there are so many divisions in Christendom and several churches do not want to know about another, and made their members afraid of the other churches, lots of people who are a member of a dying church do not dare to have a look at another church and when their church closes just decide to stay at home instead of going to another church denomination, nearby or some kilometres away.
It is much too easy to say
that those whom God has saved will remain in His salvation until the end. They shall neither totally nor finally fall away and God will see to it that this takes place by His Spirit who dwells in each believer.
Though many may have decided in the past to be ‘reborn’, if they do not receive regular spiritual food, will get lost through starvation. Like the shepherd attending his sheep and going after a lost sheep, we too should be there to help the sheep to stay together and to find the right sheepfold. As fellow believers we should be giving our hand, guiding and helping others to stay with us on the right path.
In a way, the death knell of those mega-churches is the cultural idols of individualism and privacy that rule their fellowship. Also that there was not given enough time to the Word of God, made those churches weak. Yes, one heard the preacher shouting some words taken out of the Bible, but it was mostly just words and phrases taken out of context and not underpinned by biblical study and biblical truth. To survive the Church needs that Word of God, the Bible as the primordial guidance.
Even though it can be difficult to be motivated, when we see all these dying communities around us, we must continue to strive to keep open a place where people who seek God, can also come closer to God and receive spiritual nourishment through the reading or spreading of the Word of God.
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