Sunday I was in the Chicago area and had the chance to visit the church I've often written about here. The one that is small, dying and poorly led by an incompetent pastor. I wasn't disappointed. The service was awful. The music was dated and not very well presented. The sermon was nearly unintelligible and there were about 35 people in the seats.
I was there mostly out of curiosity and because I was the guest of my friend who desperately wants the church to grow. But I wondered why the other folks were there. There truly was nothing appealing about the church. And with enough seats for over 200 the 35 or so people scattered about made the place feel like a mortuary. The most amazing thing is that morning they welcomed six new people into membership.
Why, I kept asking myself, would people join this church? Why is anyone coming? Part of the answer is that the new members are really just transferring from another church where they don't like the pastor and the direction that church is taking. Others are die hard Lutherans who will hang in there until the church dies.
Is that a good enough reason for a church to exist? To provide a comfortable place for complacent old people to gather and where disgruntled Christians can retreat. I truly find nothing in scripture or the life of Jesus or the record of the early church that indicates church should ever serve those purposes. Yet there are many across the American landscape that are plodding along in ways very similar to the church I visited Sunday.