"If We Build It They Will Come" No Longer Works
Church planting requires many administrative tasks. From setting up email accounts and registering the church's 501-C3 status to fundraising and sending update letters, one can easily spend over one-hundred hours on the front end tackling these necessary duties. In addition to these important matters, a church planter must also find a meeting location. Will it be a storefront or an elementary school, a hotel or existing church? Recently I secured a location for our church plant, but what I found along the way was quite interesting.
In our church planting location, there are several neighborhood churches that were built in the 1950s and 1960s. These are beautiful structures with amazing worship auditoriums, fellowship and dining halls, classrooms, and just about every other amenity one can imagine.
As I visited these churches to inquire into renting their facility for Lord's Day worship (our first service is October 26, 2014), I typically received a tour of the premises by either the minister or some other church officer. I found myself daydreaming throughout the tour hoping that Crown and Joy Presbyterian Church would one day own such a beautiful facility. In most cases when I snapped out of my trance, I asked how many people attend the church. With such large worship auditoriums, many seating 600, I expected to hear a large number. However, the numbers reported were shocking.
When I asked a church officer why the numbers were low despite the large worship auditoriums, he responded, "People don't go to church anymore." In conjunction with this same sentiment, another church officer responded, "Our people are old and dying."
After these moving statements, these church officers reflected upon, in narrative fashion, the golden years in the 1950s and 1960s. There was a time, they suggested, when their churches were full. One could expect those in the neighborhood to either walk to church or make a short drive to arrive. All you needed was a building in the community and people came. Now, more people walk by the church than attend. Unlike yesteryear, when people move into the community, most of them are not churchgoers. As a result, some intimated, our church buildings remain in the community awaiting closure.
In the 1950s and 1960s, I can only imagine no one thought their church would be virtually empty in about fifty years. They expected the preaching of the word to continue and their congregation to thrive. What a difference fifty years can make?
What does this have to do with you?
You may not have Lord's Day service in an auditorium that seats 600 (or perhaps you do); nevertheless, I wonder in what state your church will be in fifty years? Will you be telling the same story as those church officers?
Since we are no longer in a culture that can expect people in the community to attend our churches, will we experience the same shift numerically? Let's face it, our exegetical preaching, proper administration of the sacraments, and church discipline will not compel people (i.e., unbelievers) to come in. They are not seeking what we offer. By the way, if we are expecting generational succession to keep our doors open, we may be expecting too much. Our children may not stay in our town once they leave and cleave, find employment, or attend college.
So what should we do, humanly speaking, to ensure our church doors remain open? "If we build it, they will come" no longer works. And while I am not suggesting we do things in the church simply to keep our doors open (see WSC 1), if we want the gospel to advance in the community, we need to be there.
My suggestion is simple. We must remain committed confessional Christians who adhere to the proper preaching of the word and administration of the sacraments, as well as be active in prayer, evangelism, and mercy. Yes, I know God is sovereign, and he orchestrates which church doors open and close, but that does not grant us access to laziness in order to neglect the aforementioned.
My hope is that not only will our churches thrive numerically now (whatever that looks like in our context), but in fifty years our churches will continue thriving as we see the gospel further embraced by those in our churches and the good news advancing to unbelievers in our communities.
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