Guessing the title of this blog may have caught your attention. Being up front, this blog has nothing to do with churches at hospice sites…I know, sorry. However, I do want to stimulate some thought about about what these terms represent and how they may apply to the church.
Over the past few years I have had some dear loved ones (grandparents specifically) pass away, but before they met Jesus they went to a place called “hospice”. Hospice, if not familiar with it, is basically a service/ place offered for those who are dying that nothing more can really be done. In essence, the individual is to weak, to sick, to old, etc. to sustain any type of cure. The potential cure would kill the patient. As a pastor, when you hear the words, “hospice has been contacted”, you know that there is nothing else to be done.
Another medical term usually combined with the above described condition is DNR…DO NOT RESUSCITATE.
DO NOT REVIVE or BRING BACK TO LIFE
This secondary label is given to patients not out of cruelty or lack of concern, but out of the understanding that nothing else can be done and by reviving, loved ones are only delaying the inevitable while dragging out suffering.
In a very sad, but very real sense, this describes the current state of many churches in North America. Churches that at one time were alive, active, purposeful, loving…but through a turn of events, age, sickness, unhealthy lives… have entered into a “hospice” state.
Here is a stark truth…some churches need to die with a DNR being placed on them, as they are actually working against the reason why they exist.
BUT THERE IS HOPE…
Different than people (as we will all die as a result of the curse of sin)…
CHURCHES DON’T HAVE TO DIE!!!
If churches that find themselves with death knocking at the door will Repent, Be Faithful, Be Obedient, Be Prayerful and Be Lead by the Spirit there is hope for the future.
If there is one thing we know about God, it is His ability to take dead, lifeless people and bring them to life! I believe He can do that with many churches as well.
Current Church Landscape…
As you may have seen by recent polls/ stats the established evangelical church (facilities) in North America is on the decline and has actually been doing so for quite sometime. Even with current trends in church planting (new church starts), the number of church closures is higher than that of starts. (see following article for stats: http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/139575-7-startling-facts-an-up-close-look-at-church-attendance-in-america.html). To some this is greatly discouraging, but to others there is a sense of opportunity to reach more w/ the gospel.
2013 resembles more of the spiritual landscape of the early CHURCH than ever before.
Here lies the bigger, more important question for churches that fall into this “hospice” category…
Will those churches (maybe your church) have REVIVE (revival) after it’s name OR will it have DNR?
How we understand what the church is and why it exists will determine the future.
BACK to the NUMBERS…
So what does all this mean? Below are few questions/ thoughts I think we should ponder on.
1.) What is the church?
The word church is highly misused and misunderstood in todays’ society from it’s original intent. The church is made up of believers in Jesus Christ. It is not an address, location, or building. A church can consist of handful of believers to thousands that gather together. However, the church is often represented by a building (church building) because that is where believers meet…no believers there, no church, just a building. The church is a living, alive spiritual organism. The church was established, is sustained, and is lead by Jesus (God Himself). The church is referenced as the “bride” of Christ, indicating His deep interest and love for her.
2.) Why does the church exist?
The church exist for the glory of God. The church exist to worship God. One of the primary ways in which the church accomplishes this purpose is by making disciples (followers of Jesus). John Piper in his book, Let the Nations Be Glad, discusses how the church makes disciples through missions, however missions is not the purpose of church, WORSHIP is.
“Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more”
The church exist to worship and glorify God.
3.) Why are we just now noticing the decline?
Osterich in the sand…
There are many different answers to this question, with fingers being pointed at many different sources/ people. Here are a few that I think could be on that long, long list:
– Leaders & members chose to see what we wanted
– Admittance of decline is to admit something deeper is wrong
– Pride/ Arrogance
– Self sufficiency
– Money is running out or already ran out
4.) Is God’s plan failing?
You may struggle even asking this question and that is OK, but I know many that are wondering…
NO…I repeat, NO…God is NOT failing and neither is His plan. God is self sustained and is self sufficient. He does not need us to accomplish His plan, however He chooses to use us by the redemptive power of His Spirit. That is the amazing, beautiful thing about the church!!! I believe that God desires for His church to reach North America and the world at large with the gospel and to do so effectively. God has not called us to a failing mission!!! He is redeeming people every day, bring the dead to life!!!
So what if you are not seeing that happen in your life or in your church? The answers to these few questions may give you some insight. I constantly ask these questions to myself.:
– Why do you exist?
– Does how you live your life support your answer?
– Why does your church exist?
– Does how your church function (what it does, not what it says), support why it supposedly exists?
– Are unbelievers being reached with the gospel through the efforts of your church? (in specific measurable ways)
– Do I really on my strength and methods more than my obedience, humbleness, and admittance that I can do nothing apart from Christ?
– Do I trust God to fulfill His plan?
5.) Why are so many churches failing?
Wow…loaded question (can hear the ammo being loaded). Short and sweet, churches often die because they elevate something above the glory of God and their primary function…to make disciples. What churches choose to elevate, causing their demise is a long list, but here might be a few:
* members over those needing to be reached
* methods/ models. (Andy Stanley explains this element well in his recent book, Deep and Wide, by saying that churches often value their “methods over the mission”.) People like “how” they do church over “why”.
* control. People like to control (or at least think so) that which is God’s
* people’s opinion over God’s guidance outlined in Scripture
6.) The cons to churches closing…
Before I lay out a few thoughts here, let me preface this section by saying I understand some churches close because of uncontrollable circumstances (the main business leaves town, churches move to different facilities, etc), but for our discussions sake I am referencing those places that didn’t have to die.
When a church closes it’s doors it is a sad day. A place once filled with worship, life change, intentionality ceases to exist. Vacant churches are reminders and discouragement for many believers. Rotting churches are fuel for those that are antagonistic towards Christianity and the gospel. These empty shells are a harsh reminder of the reality that when God’s people waiver from Him and His heart they cease to be a light house in a community. Closed churches were poor representations of Christ.
7.) The pros to churches closing…
When unhealthy churches close vacant real estate is opened for healthy churches to start at that location. Also, when a church closes it’s doors an incorrect representation of what the church should be is removed, actually being better for a community. That’s right, you read correctly…a church that does not function as Jesus intended it to can actually be more a detriment/ harm to it’s surrounding neighbors than a help. In addition, when a church closes an opportunity for “church mergers” exist. A church merger is when a healthy purposeful church absorbs a dying church under it’s structure and leadership…the one ceases to exist while the other expands it’s ministries/ reach.
Wrap it up…
Some of what I have said, may sound harsh, hard to swallow, and even mean…but it’s reality. Churches through out the ages have come and gone, many of which disappearing because they forgot why they existed and ultimately because they left their “first love” (Revelation, Ephesus).
What we have to answer by our visions, our models, our systems and our actions is whether we will be churches that have titles/ labels after our names saying:
HOSPICE CHURCH, DNR
REVIVED CHURCH, FOR THE GLORY OF GOD.