Ramblings on a Dead Church!
This past Sunday I attended a church in west-central Florida where a number of seniors spend the winter, including my parents. The church I attended was surprisingly packed- out. It was a Methodist church, but it could have been from any tribe. The building was really very beautiful and perfectly maintained. Most of it was new, and the older section had clearly been remodeled. (Old people tend to have money, don’t they?) It had decent traditional music, if you like that sort of thing, including a large, robed choir and a very serious-looking bell choir. (Why are bell choirs always so serious? Someone should really look into that.) Bottom line: The church looked great on the outside, but it was dead on the inside. The average age in the church was probably 75 years old. . . no exaggeration. Now, to be fair, the surrounding community leans that way, but I saw loads of young people down there, as well. (Mind you, many of them were drinking beer and partying on boats with scantily-clad women. . . but they were still down there nevertheless.) Yet, at this church, I was clearly the youngest person, and one of only TWO people in the room in their thirties. The other person worked on the church’s staff. And, as far as I could tell, there weren’t any people present even in their 40’s! Now there's nothing wrong with being old (we'll all end up there someday, Lord willing), but this place was OLD.
Like I said, the music was clearly geared toward an older generation. . . a mix of nineteenth century hymns and 1970’s and 80's syrupy praise hits, like “I Love You, Lord” and “Make Me a Servant.” The pastor was probably in his mid-sixties and seemed like a really good guy, but his message on John 3:16 (truth-be-told) was totally incoherent (and, I’m a pretty smart guy). The message made some sense at the time, but I couldn’t tell my wife 10 minutes later what he had said or what it had meant for my life. You could attend that church your whole life and easily escape Christ. The service lasted only an hour, but it felt like two.
The crazy thing was this: the people in this church LOVED this church. You should have seen it. They were totally content, totally satisfied—even having a pretty good time. (The smaller choir really whooped it up on “Here I Am to Worship” accompanied by a music track. I hate tracks!) But, it didn’t seem to bother them that three or four generations of people were missing from their aging congregation. It didn’t seem to bother them that the Gospel of transformation wasn’t being clearly preached—just nice little stories and intangible, philosophical points that lead to nothing but lifeless religion. It didn’t seem to bother them that a whole population from their community, filled with young people clearly searching for more out of life, wasn’t being reached. In fact, as I was sitting down in one of the padded pews, an old lady scolded me, saying, “Those seats are taken!” Can you believe that? I mean, I’ve heard of that happening in churches, but it’s never happened to me.
You see, all that mattered to this church was survival. And the sad thing was this church wasn’t just surviving, it was thriving. But, it seems to me, they weren’t doing it with the heart of God.
How do I know that? I mean, boy, that sounds really judgmental, doesn’t it? It is judgmental, and I might be totally wrong about what God is doing in that church. But from my perspective, something was clearly missing. It wasn't the age. It wasn't the music. I don't know what it was, but something was missing. Even my mom, who fits the younger end of their demographic, had the same observation. She said to me, “That was SO boring.” Something was missing. The church looked great on the outside, even on the inside. . . but it was clearly dead. The sad thing was that nobody in the church knew it. But, the community knew it and they weren’t coming.
That grieves me. It’s a missed opportunity. All those available resources—that money! And at the same time, all those left-out people, and all those insiders who don’t give a rip about their community. That grieves me and I think it grieves God.
And. . . it makes me grateful for Northgate. I’m so grateful for all that God is doing at our church. Every week we see hundreds of people in their teens, twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, even eighties! (The music is a little rowdy for the 90 year olds, I'm told, so we don’t have many in that age category.) But we’re reaching our community and we’re alive in the Spirit!
If Northgate ever ends up like that church down in Florida, do me a favor and just put me out of my misery, please. Even worse, if we end up like that church and I don’t notice it, do yourself a favor and find a new pastor. Of course, if Northgate ends up that way and you're still there, you probably won’t notice either.
Just some ramblings and poor sentences. Don’t take me too seriously. I’ll see you Sunday!