Immortal Church

…that church no longer exists. The building is there, occupied by a different church under new leadership. Los Gatos Christian Church slowly died and was buried…

…maybe churches are not meant to live forever. Maybe some die and new life emerges from the fertile soil of a once great church. —Diane Comer

Should a church last forever?

There has been much adieu about the receding and dying of the Christian church in recent years. Many are lamenting the dwindling numbers and rising age of church attenders. One of the selling points of church outreach is growth despite the dying church phenomenon. This growth then becomes a measure of truth or value.

“Well, here at Big Rapidly Growing Church we must be getting something right because we have tripled our numbers this week. We cater to your age group. We target your demographic. This is what we do.”

Then in ten years when you fall into a different demographic, is that still what they do? Or, do they switch it up and serve those who are left after Mega Rapidly Growing Church made a plant down the street?

Would church planting and operation be different if we went into it with a life expectancy for a particular work? Would the church’s struggle for relevance be made easier by the addition of an expiration date?

For example: We are planting this church to serve this group for ten years, at which time we will have developed other ministry works to pass this group on to.

What does it look like for “new life” to emerge from these fertile grounds? Are the grounds fertile? Or, have all of the resources of that ground been used up—hence the death of the church.

The more traditional church model is where a lot of these questions and subsequent deaths occur. The more flexible simple or organic church form seems to be able to cope a little better. I’m not making a case for either school of thought. I’m just observing.

Would intentional, healthy division into smaller groups help inoculate the church against this syndrome? Instead of growing a huge organization with enormous budget needs, we would grow numerous and varied works each with its own focus and a much lighter financial burden. Diversification as it were. The church already makes frequent use of many business techniques. Why not use this one as well? The church could make a much wider footprint with less resources and hedge their needs for a longer future.

I don’t know the answer I’m just interested in what you have to say. Should a church last forever? Does a church have a life expectancy?

7 thoughts on “Immortal Church

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  1. I think the answer to that depends on whether a church continues to be God’s church or becomes a pastor’s church or “man’s church.” God’s church doesn’t fail.

    Our church in Illinois started out as “God’s church”. After worshipping God and following His lead in a high school auditorium, and a renovated movie house, we bought an old church and our pastor had a huge part in redesigning the church. It was beautiful. However, I think he, at some point, began thinking of it as “his church.” He started causing problems with the rest of the pastoral staff and elders over the building. This was actually only one of the problems we were having, though none of the problems surfaced to the entire congregation until much later. In the end, God removed him from the church so that it could become “God’s church” again. Actually, God ended up removing all but one of the pastoral staff as part of His pruning process. The church split. It was sudden and it was painful, but there was new growth as a result of the pruning. As a congregation we let go of all the things we thought were important and let God lead us. The church is still in existence.

    We are now attending a church that seems to be following God’s leading. Instead of growing into Church-Mart, which I think was the initial leading, it is now sending out new church plants in different parts of the community and in the state, kind of like a spider plant, or like the franchise principle. It also merged with other medium sized churches. We are attending a church plant located near us. We are meeting in a school right now, but hope to rent a place where there won’t be as much set up. My prayer for my church is that our church would be continually led by God and not hinge upon any one person or group of people.

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    1. Interesting story. All too often I think that change in thinking is what happens. It leaves what God intended and becomes some other entity. Could be that is what dooms it to some kind of death.

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  2. The church we previously attended is dying and has been in decline since soon after we became members (about 5 years ago). It is in a fairly affluent area with most attenders having 6 figure+ incomes.They brought in a new pastor – young large family and darling wife who was the not stereotypical “pastor’s wife” hoping to grow and gain new members. It started out wonderful – he had new ideas (which the elders and congregation claimed to want) and despite the typical downswing in membership that always occurs after a pastoral change, new members slowly started to trickle in. But all the new ideas sadly didn’t last long. The elders wanted fast growth; children’s programs, church goals, and major changes like small groups lasted 3 months or so and then it was on to something new. And the pastor became not only comfortable with his own $100,000 or so salary (not to mention free education for his five kids) but his preaching style changed – more fire and brimstone and less love your neighbor – mostly out of fear for his job. The Christian school the church founded split from the church because former church members refused to help fund the school if it continued to associate with the church. Its over extended money wise (the building which also houses the school is much to large for the dwindling numbers of both), people wise (soccer, basketball, and volleyball programs mean the 80 something members are burnt out and under appreciated) and the frequent missionary trips (church funded) by the pastor (with week long layovers in Paris and Portugal for much needed “downtime”) have led to further decline and its sinking fast. The time limits on elders and deacons are pointless – the same men rotate from one to the other (not a single new one in all five years with were there). Its sad to watch it die – the congregation doesn’t want to see it go, knows that changes are needed but is ultimately unwilling to make long lasting, effective changes and simply wants it to be “business as usual”)

    And on a side note – despite the fact we were actively involved before we rescinded our membership (my husband and I taught Sunday School ages K-6th for 3 years, my daughter and I helped out in nursery and she and I were involved in Awana) most people still don’t know we’ve left. The few (20 or so) I still keep in touch with on Facebook have slowly lost interest in maintain any sort of relationship – and recently the pastor “unfriended’ us after I posted an article about open dialogue between religious groups (specifically pagans). I’m still bitter (that’s my fault for sticking around too long) but even though my theology differs greatly with theirs, I don’t want to see the church die because many loving, caring Christians call it home.

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    1. WOW. Heck of a story. I wish it were isolated but it is not even alone on these comments. I makes you realize there is something more to friendship than a click.
      You used the phrase “business as usual” I think that is appropriate being that many churches are religious businesses and subject to the same outcome as standard business if managed poorly.

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  3. Barba, church now is unlike it was in 500, 1000 and 1900. I can’t imagine it will remain the same over the next 50 years. Our grandparents would not recognize it.

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