In regards to what the church is, these are profound, powerful words from the Apostle Paul. A whole structure—a network even—joined together in and by Jesus—the Church. A holy place that is alive—so much so that it grows—the Church.
Those of us who are a part of it—the Church—we are not mere vassals of this network, holding watch over something that is not ours, hoping that we will be granted some kind of reward for our servant-slave-ness. No, we are in this too, built together, woven together; spiritually and lovingly, like the structure and network itself, all within Jesus himself. The Church.
And for what reason? So that it, so that this, so that we…are a dwelling place for God. This is what Paul was talking about—the Church. This is the church. We are the church. Christ is our cornerstone. All so that we are a “dwelling place for God.”
Put in such a way—that is, being a “dwelling place for God”— and it makes being part of the Church sound pretty good, doesn’t it?
But… there’s always a “but” huh? But… The American Church is shrinking…fast. God-loving people are leaving the church in droves, and much of the church that attracted them in the past simply doesn’t work anymore. The Church, people say… society says… our cultures says… doesn’t work anymore. It’s outdated, it no longer relevant, it’s broken, it’s judgmental, it’s hypocritical.
Is that true? Not for you—you wouldn’t be here otherwise, right? But what about people you know—co-workers, family members, neighbors? Is this perception of the Church true?
Ask Thom and Joani Schultz about the state of the church today and they will tell you: Attendance is shrinking in all kinds of churches. While 40 percent of Americans may say they attend church weekly, the actual number is more like 20 percent. 85 percent of churches in the U.S. are stuck or in decline. Nearly one in five Americans check “none” for their religious affiliation, a rapidly growing segment. In just five years, the percentage of teenagers attending church every week has dropped from 20 percent to 15 percent.
This is all talked about in the Schultz’s book, “Why Nobody Wants To Go To Church Anymore.” A pointed, sobering, challenging book that at times is frustrating and discouraging not because of its topic, rather because of its truth. And that truth is… The Church, as we know it, is dying.
Thom Schultz went to a Presbyterian church in New York state, and asked the pastor and congregation members, “What’s your church’s mission?” The answers were all over the landscape and included: “To carry on our tradition in the community.” “To make people feel good and want to come back.” “To show God’s love through acts of kindness.” “To keep our old building open and maintained.” “It’s the same mission as the Rotary club.”
Schultz found that this church has experienced decades of decline and its story is depicted in the documentary film When God Left the Building which takes an up close look at not just the decline of this church in New York state, but churches all across our country and around the world. In addition to this exploration the film also includes comparing the current struggles of the American church to the struggles and ultimate demise of the Kodak Company—the camera and film giant that we all used to know and love.
In the film, former Kodak engineer Steve Sasson describes how his company’s mission drifted, it failed to evolve, all leading to the company’s eventual bankruptcy. In the film harsh realities are revealed, decades old ideologies are called into question, and the cultural shift that has been taking place is explored in great depth and it reveals the truth that the Church, as we know it, is dying.
But… there’s always a “but”… But, the film seeks to answer the question, “Is there anything we the Church can do to turn the tide of the dying church?” with a resounding YES! Yes there is something we the Church can do to turn the tide of the dying church.
Our theme for this Lent is coming from John 15 where we encounter Jesus talking about himself as the true vine, God as the vine grower, and we are the branches. It is our job, with the help of God and Jesus to bear good fruit. But, Jesus explains, bearing good fruit can only be done when we abide in him, and that apart from Him we can do nothing.
In addition to focusing on this text as part of your Lenten walk, you are invited to view the film, “When God Left The Building” the powerful documentary by Thom Schultz that was birthed out of his book “Why Nobody Wants To Go To Church Anymore.”
Just as he did in his book, Schultz set out on a journey to uncover why churches—once the heart and soul of their communities—are now shrinking in both size and influence. What he discovered will give us unprecedented insight into the situation the Church is facing, as well as a powerful wake-up call, and an inspiring call to action. Check out this somewhat lengthy trailer of the film, “When God Left The Building”
I, and many others like the Schultz’s, believe there is much we as the Church today can do to turn this tide around. And to do just that many churches are intentionally discerning and discovering innovative ideas for changing the way people think about church, and the way the church even does church.
Throughout the rest of this Lenten season, and beyond, we as a church are going to begin our own process of discernment in an intentional effort to discovery how we can become even better at being church.
I want for everyone to see this film, and so I am asking everyone to see this film. We will begin screenings of it tomorrow evening at 6:30 in the library. If evenings don’t work, we will have a screening of the film this Thursday morning at 10 a.m. in the library and then again this coming Saturday morning at 8:30.
Next week we will have more screenings, and if those don’t work for you then I encourage you to check out the online five dollar rental options at: www.group.com/whengodleftthebuilding/#demand
It is vastly important for all of us to see this film so that our minds, hearts, and spirits are convicted by the challenges we are facing, but then inspired, to dream and plan and work to make sure that our church… that the Church, never dies. After all, this place, each of us, we are the Church, a dwelling place for God. Amen.