The church blogosphere is heating up. The topic is death… the death of the Church. Or to be more accurate, the issue is a question: “Is the Church dying? Or not?”
Of course, everyone has an opinion (including me), and as a colleague of mine once said, “not a thought goes unpublished.” I must have read a half-dozen blog posts (at least) on the topic in the last several weeks alone…even tossed in a couple of my own. Opinions run the gamut. Some of my friends say, “Yes.” Some of my friends say, “No.” Some of my friends say, “Maybe so.”
The latest one I read, moments ago, by the Rev. Jason Cox of St. Columba’s, D.C., was entitled, “The Church Isn’t Dying, Christendom Is.” He makes some good points, among them that (a) we are way too anxious about this “dying church” business and (b) good riddance to Christendom, which never was about the kingdom of God anyway but rather about the institutional Church getting into bed with the Powers That Be.
I come down a bit differently on this. (I know…you wouldn’t have it any other way.)
As usual, in large part I agree with my friends…on both sides. I say “The Church is ALWAYS Dying” and “The Church will NEVER die.”
Here are a few facts:
- Fact: Churches die. About 3,500 churches die each year in the U.S. alone. If it wasn’t for the 4,000 new churches that are born each year, we’d be in deep trouble.
- Fact: Denominations die. Actually, they split and the two parts die to each other. Worldwide, such schisms are creating new denominations faster than the rate at which we baptize new Christians.
- Fact: Ways of doing church die. Christendom is dead. It’s just that we haven’t gotten around to burying it, because sometimes we wish we still had that kind of power and influence.
- Fact: Change is death. Yes, the Church is changing, but change often feels like death…because it is death: the death of a way of life. That’s why change is so hard: it reminds us of our mortality.
- Fact: Some churches would rather die than change. Many of the churches that have closed didn’t have to die. They might have lived on if they had been able to adapt to their changing context, but they could not bring themselves to face that kind of change.
- Fact: Some churches die but pretend to be alive. Often, this happens because they are cursed with wealth. But churches do not live by endowments alone, but by hearing and acting on the word of God.
And here are a few truths:
- Truth: Death is not failure (and failure is not death). Unfortunately, both tend to be taboos in the institutional church: uncomfortable topics about which about which we do not speak, perhaps because we view them with guilt or shame. But closing a church can be a healthy and even a courageous thing to do, if done well. No dishonor in serving a life worth celebrating, then dying. Meanwhile, failure can be a source of great learning and even a road to great success, but only if we talk about it. And if we avoid failure as way of life, we also avoid taking the risks that might lead us to greater life. To put a different spin on Apollo 13, “Failure is not an option…It’s a prerequisite.”
- Truth: Death is nothing to be afraid of. If the Church believes its own teaching that death is the gate to eternal life, what do we as congregations and leaders of congregations have to fear? We are in the death-and-resurrection business for God’s sake (literally). Death ought to hold no power over our God-gifted capacity to live.
- Truth: Churches may die but the Church cannot die. It is the love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit that gives life to the Church. Our individual churches are temporal communities but the Body of Christ is eternal. It is not the job of churches not to die…only to be faithful.
So, is the Church dying? Or not?
The answer, of course, is “Yes.”
But the real question is, “How can we help our churches continually die in such a way as to be continually reborn?”
- Adapt or Die in ECF Vital Parishes by Ken Howard
- Are You Leading a Zombie Parish? in Paradoxical Thoughts by Ken Howard
- The Church is (Not) Dying in digitaljasonevens by Jason Evans
- The Church Isn’t Dying, Christendom Is in EDOW Blog by Jason Cox
- The Church must die so Christianity can thrive in Telling Secrets by Elizabeth Kaeton
- The State of the Church in America: Hint: It’s Not Dying in Christianity Today by Ed Setzer
- Statistics Don’t Tell the Whole Story When It Comes to Church Attendance in ChurchLeaders by Staff Writer
- What Needs to Die in the Church in DirtySexyMinistry by Laurie Brock
- Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore in The Huffington Post by Steve McSwain
- Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive by Thom S. Rainer
- The Death of Christian Culture by John Senior
- Death of the Church by Mike Regele
- Paradoxy: Creating Christian Community Beyond Us and Them by Ken Howard
- Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore by Thom & Joni Schultz