While running an errand on a lunch break this week, I passed two church buildings that have recently closed their doors and the buildings were converted into new businesses. One was in the process of becoming an upscale, trendy restaurant. The other had already been transformed into, of all things, a doggie day care. I know of another church in a different part of town that years ago closed its doors and is now a beauty supply store. When Michael and I bought our first house in East Nashville, the search for a “church home” was endless and frustrating. Because of the changing culture and demographics in the neighborhood since the 1950’s, many of the churches had all but died. Week after week, we would walk into a church that from the outside looked like it should have several hundred people in attendance. The grand, old sanctuary was dark and empty (and occasionally moldy) and we would quickly be escorted to another room, maybe a fellowship hall, where a small congregation of 20 or 30 were gathered. It seemed that while in other parts of the city, mega churches were apparently thriving and expanding to new locations, these smaller, older churches were slowly and painfully dying away. That was 5+ years ago and I know that a few of those have since disbanded their congregation and sold their buildings.
What causes a “church” to die? An older generation that never reproduced younger believers? Traditions that we hold too tightly? Resistance to changing culture and new ideas? What happened to the race that we were running? In Galatians 5:7 Paul admonishes his readers by saying, “You were running so well. Who prevented you from obeying the truth?” What kept us from running the race with endurance? Sometimes a church closes because it runs out of money. Sometimes it closes because of arguments and disagreements. But I think the closing of “church” doors is usually a symptom of a greater disease. The disease that we have allowed other things to take precedence in our lives above Christ, our Cornerstone. “Church” becomes merely the Sunday social hour, not a time of fellowship with other believers reflecting on what God has done and anticipating what He will do next. When we confine “church” to what happens in that hour on Sunday morning, we make the mistake of believing that the church is a building and that it doesn’t go with us every minute of every day. 1 Peter 2:5 states “you yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” It is us. Our bodies, our fellowship with other believers, our daily spiritual sacrifices to the Lord. It’s not easy to be the church so I’m afraid many times instead of persevering, we decide it’s easier to close the doors and start over. Honestly, sometimes I have this fleeting thought about my house! I think, I will never be able to get it truly clean ever again! I would rather just sell it and get a new house and start over! Of course, anyone who has ever been through that process of selling and buying knows how ridiculous that thought is. So I get to cleaning. Maybe we’ve thought this about church. It’s hard, we can’t fix all the problems, so let’s just shut it down and start all over with someone new. Let’s just walk away. 2 Timothy 4:2 pleads, “Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct and encourage with great patience and teaching.”
So when I see a church building that has closed it’s doors, I pray they haven’t walked away. I pray their faith is as real today as it was when they gathered in those rooms. I pray they still meet and find encouragement from a local body of believers. I pray they will be able to say with Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”