The Church is dying. Or maybe it’s the churches that are dying. I’m not sure which it is, but a consistent and dire theme within the literature written about church would have one believe that it’s all but over: Churches are closing their doors; Young people are choosing vague spirituality over congregational identity; Christian Faith can’t keep pace with the rapid change that defines our culture. And on it goes.
Surely some of this is true. But what is patently false is the idea that church is somehow on shakier ground today than it was during some idealized time in the past. Not only that, there is plenty of life within the churches in our towns and cities- if you know where to look.
Over the past few days I drove around our corner of the fly-over states visiting some of these churches. (Maybe that’s part of the problem. Some of the naysayers need to cease with the flyover pronouncements, walk away from their statistics for a minute, and visit some real live churches.) I sat in on a pastor’s meeting where a Hispanic pastor talked with his white colleagues about the many opportunities for ministry in their state. I had dinner with a couple who live in the city that had the country’s last documented lynching; they hope to start a multi-racial church in this segregated place. I met with a Kenyan pastor in St Louis whose church welcomes new immigrants who know almost nothing of the country they’ve landed in. The next morning I had breakfast with a bi-vocational pastor- he does construction work part time and pastors a young congregation of university students and professors with his remaining hours. From there I drove to Champaign where I was given the opportunity to preach at an African American congregation whose ministry to the marginalized has caught the attention of the city’s politicians. My trip ended in Bloomington, in the small sanctuary of a 2-year old church. On Sunday evenings they turn their space into a warming center for their neighbors who don’t have homes. I watched and listened as these men and women talked, laughed, and slept before moving on to the night shelter.
The Church is dead? I don’t think so. Long live the Church. Long live the churches.