Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Is Church Death a Part of Church Life?


We had one of those "teachable life-lesson moments" at our home early this morning. Our beloved cat, Lizzie, passed away quietly on the sofa in my study around 6:00 AM. Over the years, Lizzie had become, almost exclusively, my daughter Laura Beth's cat. Laura Beth had a very strong connection with Lizzie. They spent a lot of time together. Lizzie slept with Laura Beth every night.

Laura Beth was with Lizzie in that moment when she drew her final breath. It was heartbreaking, and there were many tears. But a little while later, after we buried Lizze under the shade of the pines in our yard, I got a chance to talk to Laura Beth alone. I shared with her a simple reality. The older you become, the more that death becomes a more common ... even an expected ... part of life.

So, what does this have to do with Church Planting, especially with regard to students? A lot! I found an interesting article written by Frank Walton of the Northside Church of Christ in Tucson, Arizona, entitled "The Life-Cycle of a Church." In that article, he proposes that there are three stages in the life of the church. They are:
  1. The Risk-Taker Stage - A stage of zealous ministry and growth.
  2. The Caretaker Stage - A time of comfort zone and "status quo."
  3. The Undertaker Stage - A time of "living in the past" and death.
Insightful stuff ... We need to help our church members, our students, even our denominational leaders, understand that death is a natural part of life, even in the life of the church. I don't know the exact statistics, but the last time I looked, we were closing the doors on 5,000+ churches a year in the United States. Churches are dying. In my denomination, I would venture to guess that the vast majority of our chruches are in the "Caretaker" and "Undertaker" stages. I'm guessing that we are about 10-15 years of funerals away from a drastic demonstration of church closures and death in the Southern Baptist Convention.

So, what's the answer? We need more "Risk-Takers." We need more new churches. We need a new, risk-taking generation of church planters. That's what our ministry is all about. Find out how you can involve students and help train this next generation at Mission M Possible.

3 Comments:

Blogger Sarah said...

Hmm, dying churches. I think that a dead church is a church filled with "dead" members. In my church planting class a few years ago my professor said something that has always stuck with me. He said, "A dead church is not even really a church." I have been taught that we as believers are the church. Church is not a physical building but believers living the truth of the gospel outwardly together in fellowship. If we are "dead" than we are not "alive."

I do believe that there are churches that lose their focus, their passion and their true calling as a "church" to live in fellowship with one another with Christ as the center. All fellowships go through the stages you mentioned but as long as Christ is abiding in and active in the hearts of believers, the church will not die.

7:29 PM  
Blogger Bennett said...

?????????????

What the heck?! How can you say such a thing?

"I'm guessing that we are about 10-15 years of funerals away from a drastic demonstration of church closures and death in the Southern Baptist Convention."

Dude! I don't even know what to say.

Churches don't have to die. I guess you are saying that many should or something, but it really sounds like you are just delivering the diagnosis that a whole bunch of churches are just going to die; because that's just a part of the normal cycle of church.

It is not normal or right for churches to die.

I'm not so sure I understand what you mean by "risk takers". Unless you mean people acting in faith. I'm pretty uncomfortable with faith being equated with taking a gamble. We see God revealed to us and we can respond with faith or with pride. But its not a gamble when you are in God's will. Scary maybe, but not a risk.

Perhaps its just a different perspective or different wording, but I would say we need a generation of "pride swallowers". Folks who will drop their pre-concieved notions of what church is supposed to be and devote themselves to a purely Biblical model of faith in community, in a body.

That might mean serving an "old" church faithfully. Or it might mean having church in a way that nobody has thought of yet. Anyway, I'm just saying, if you doggin on da Church, I ain't down wit dat.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Geoff Baggett said...

Bennett-
Thanks for the comment.

You said, "Churches don't have to die." But the stark reality is that many of our churches are dying. Well over 5,000 a year are closing their doors in the United States alone. In Southern Baptist life, about 3/4 (75%) of our churches are plateaued or in a steady decline. Many are, indeed, dying slow, painful deaths.

I did not intend to "prognosticate" what is going to happen in church life in North America, nor did I intend to state my own personal wishes for the churches of North America. I merely have acknowledged the situation as it exists.

The "risk takers" terminology was not my own. I quoted it from the referenced article. However, I think that the author was referring to churches that are willing to step outside the "status quo" and "comfort zone" of the established church and do "whatever it takes" to reach their communities for Christ.

Yes, churches do have a life cycle. Churches which do not adapt with the culture around them do, indeed, die. Where is the church at Jerusalem? Where are the seven churches of the Revelation? What about the church at Alexandria? They all died centuries ago. Churches are made up of people. People die. Therefore, churches die. Our goal must be to continually give birth to new churches ... to plant new, thriving, growing, "risk-taking" churches.

7:47 PM  

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