change or die?

i'm always hurt when i read articles telling how many old-line/mainline churches are dying. recently, i had a conversation with a evangelical lutheran pastor who pastors a church right next door to a lutheran college. in that conversation i said, "you must have killer college energy in this place." and he said they did not, that his congregation was aging, so he shared this story with me:

he said, "recently, we had a couple visit our fair church who were moving to the area from florida. it had been the first time in a long time we actually had visitors to our church who seemed to like what we were doing. i decided to visit and welcome them to the area and share a bit about our church, our vision and our ministries. they were a great couple, returning to the area after living for a while in florida. they seemed to like what we were doing, at least they were not negative about it. they told me they liked the music; they like the look of the building; they liked the message. they were drawn to us because we were right next-door to a college, and they felt the church would have a large college age gathering. in our conversation the husband shared that while they liked it all, they did not feel "comfortable" with the average age of our church. the husband said, 'we were hoping to find people our own age; there were too many old people.'"

that was nothing new to my ears, so i said, "well, i am not trying to make an excuse for the couple, but a younger generation is always looking to have some friends their own age."

he looked at me and replied, "maybe so, but the husband was 67 years old. the average age of our church is in the mid-80's. he told me that he did not want to have to make new friends every five years. we are, and i hate to say this, one bad flue season away from closing the doors."

as i think about this, and how crushed the minister was about the story, i am reminded how many in old-line/mainline churches ignore the problems facing them - sure, the lutherans are just one group that seem to not understand the need to reach out with a different mindset to a new people - with the exception of people like my friend karen ward the idea of "different" is not a thought in the elca, and other denominations - take for example the june 3rd article in the christian post.

the presbyterian church, usa is dying on the vine, and they seem not to get that fact - every year from 1966 on the pcusa has declined in membership. while most years have been 1% or maybe 1.5% this year was the first time the church has lost over 2%; if that keeps up within the next 10 years they would lose about 17% of their current membership ["all things being equal']. for a denomination that could claim at one time having over 2% of the american population as members, today it is .78% - a very large drop - there are [as a percentage of the population] less people in the pcusa today then there were in 1870 - the decline is all across the board. why? what is the issue? some in the more conservative churches say it is because they are "liberal" - i am not sure that is the case - i think it is because they, like many old-line/mainline churches, are irrelevant to the times.

most old-line/mainline churches have become boxes that refuse to change to meet the times. sure, they can point to one or two plants where they are reaching a new generation, but all in all the plants do not equal the closings. i have found that many are building walls to retreat behind, and minister to "their own." it is hard to see the future of the church in a denomination the size of a dinosaurs, when it take the speed and agility of a gazelle to minister in our culture.

just my thoughts, what do you think?

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1 comment:

friend said...

I've been to Northern Ireland where as a whole the mainline churches are dying on the vine...and it makes me think about God pruning the vine and how it is a natural process...when the church does not remain in Him, in what He is doing...the institution becomes a fit object for the firepit of God.

The good thing is that the kingdom of God is advancing in new places, and that is exciting.

Plus all those cool old churches will make radical homes, coffee shops and pubs one day.