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.