When Churches Die

I saw this great photo of a piece of concept art of sorts on Seth Godin's blog. It's a digital clock inside glass. The clock is dead - no longer keeping time - no longer moving forward - no longer useful. If the clock is to be started again, one thing has to be done - the glass must be broken!

As soon as I saw this, I couldn't help but think of the majority of churches in America today. I don't believe it's ever intentional, but a church begins to die when it focuses more on it's structures, buildings, or traditions, and less on its mission, it's Savior, and the world around it in need of Jesus. Eventually they come to a point where they would rather sacrifice the "clock" to save the "glass".

The hard reality for the vast majority of churches is that in order to see progress and get the clock started again, the MUST destroy their structures, traditions, or whatever else is keeping them from carrying out their Biblical mandate. This process is never painless. It creates conflict. It stretches people far beyond their comfort zones. It will ALWAYS mean that people will leave. For most churches, this is just too high a price. Most opt for the path of least resistance and revel in their glory days. When this decision is made (whether intentionally or passively), the church IS DEAD. It may be a slow death, but it's a death nonetheless.

For an older church to be a vital, Kingdom-minded, agent of life-change - it must intentionally make tough choices, expect pain, BBQ more than a few sacred cows, and be prepared to see people they love leave for another church. That sounds harsh, but it's the reality I've seen time and time again. The beautiful thing is the benefits far outweigh the downside (and it's a pretty stinkin' big downside). When a church is living out its call, embracing the Holy Spirit, loving a lost world, and experiencing the power of changed lives - it's beautiful. It's something worth dying for.


Mookie said...

I'm new to your blog, so maybe you've addressed this before but:
How would you compare this to the current phenomenon that church membership as a whole is declining in numbers, as the younger generations no longer seem to find a need for the church (in any denomination)?
I see a lot about missions to places such as Africa, Central and South America, Asia, but it seems that the church has gone the way of the new popular adoptive policies, in subscribing to bringing foreign "newborns" into the family, while not really addressing those "orphans" among us. I'm not against foreign missions or adoption, I'm just urious as to why we don't have stronger domestic policy, if that makes any sense?

Jeff Myers said...


I'd say that there are many facets to it. I know a lot of Christians are up in arms about the number of churches closing their doors. I'm of the opinion that there probably aren't enough closing their doors. There are alot of cruddy, abusive, prideful, self-centered churches out there. Chances are, if they died, they deserved to die. The reason it's easier to focus on missions than to focus domestically is because a domestic focus requires change and most churches don't have the intestinal fortitude to do so.

On the flip side, I don't think churches are nearly focused enough on missions. There are bodies of believers in the world with no meeting place, no clean water, and no access to physicians - yet the American church squanders billions of dollars on donuts, multi-million dollar buildings, and bowling alleys or skate parks for their youth groups. It's a disgrace and nobody wants to talk about it.