Earlier this week I caught this story on NPR:
Each Sunday, a crowd of worshipers descends on a Detroit church that used to be filled with people but now faces closure and death. The pastor and administrator in me listened with interest but also with concern. What happens next week when the pews – and the offering plates – are again empty? How does one Sunday of great attendance improve the viability of the local church in any meaningful way?
What really caught my attention was this line:
“People are upset that the churches are closing, but the simple reason is, people don’t go…”
The speaker meant that people don’t go to the churches and therefore the churches are empty. I wondered if the real problem lies in the very words he spoke but seen from the other side?
In the interest of fairness, I do not know these churches, their leaders or their congregants. But when did keeping the physical doors of the church open become a passion worthy of the church? Worthy of the sacrificial nature of a Christ who gave himself if others and not for himself?
This story troubles me because – honestly – much of my work as a pastor is directed to this very thing — keeping the church open, moving the church forward in growth, etc. And guaranteeing that I have a salary and a home and a retirement account.
What this story says to me is that the church will survive and thrive when its people – when Christ’s people – go rather than lamenting that people don’t go to church. Not a new thought for me or for many but a thought energized by this sad story.
I certainly hope the churches in this story stay open. I hope, even more, that they and we go instead.
“For those who want to save their life will lose it,
and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Matthew 16:25 NRSV