Have you seen those air freshener commercials where the mom enters her son’s bedroom and snarls up her nose because it smells like dirty socks and sneakers? The punch line is, You think it smells fine, but others smell this . . . Millions of people suffer from NOSE BLINDNESS, when you get used to the odors around you (while guests still can).
Last night Gena and I met with a dying church. It has been on LIFE SUPPORT for years:
- They hire visiting men to preach and lead singing for them.
- They are financially solvent only because of rental income (of which they are exceedingly proud).
- They average 24 members in their Sunday worship (in a 300-seat auditorium).
- All of their members are 70, 80 or 90 years old; they’ve had 21 funerals in the past two years.
- They haven’t had any families with children for years.
These are all signs of a church on hospice care. This raises the question, when is it no longer godly for a church to keep on going?
As we spent the evening visiting with these brothers and sisters, it was abundantly clear that these people love their church, and they still do good things: they rent one of their 4 buildings to another church. They let a small Hispanic church of thirty people meet for free in another portion of the building, they distribute food to the needy once a week, and they love being together in their small group on Sundays and Wednesdays. These people have done life together for so long they cannot imagine doing anything different.
And that may be their biggest challenge. The loss of the ability to imagine is one of the symptoms of a church on hospice.
When we entered their doors, we saw buildings that were last updated thirty years ago, bathrooms that are fifty years old, classrooms with paper signs on the doors stating teens and grade groups that have not had children in them for fifteen years. On the reader board outside they still have the name of their last, consistent drive-in preacher (who stopped preaching for them two years ago).
But when these members come to church, they see a “remembered” church, a church as it was in the 1980s when over 800 members gathered for Sunday worship. Because they love their church so much, they have become nose blind to a building that is literally falling down around them.
We have seen so many churches in this same situation. One of the saddest statements I’ve heard was the comment made at the end of day and half session with a church just like this one that knew all they needed was a magic pill and they could grow back to their glory days. As we
were packing up to leave one of their elders took me aside and in a small, quiet voice said, “My daughter, who grew up in our church and was married here told me, ‘Dad, this church smells like death. I would never bring my family back here.’”
Let’s ask the question again:
When is it no longer godly for a church to keep on going? What is your answer?