I have read article after article talking about the decline of the church. Some of these articles are written from a fearful standpoint and some a bit more prescriptive – offering suggestions on what to do about it. I appreciate the second group of articles. They take some imagination, courage, creativity and forward thinking.
They also hit on something really important. Often it is something that no one even mentions. It’s this little principle – Every time there is a decline, it necessarily means there is also an increase in something else.
Here’s what I mean. Take a look at this glass:
They are both right, which means something completely different – the glass is always full – it’s just a matter of what it is full of. It’s full of water and air. The ratios of each change, but they are both there filling the glass.
So how does this relate to church – when you see an emptying church, you have to ask the question – is the church in decline? Well, it’s always full, it’s just a matter of what it is full of. It is full of some people for sure and that’s the obvious thing. It’s also full of air, silence, noise, tradition, culture, faith, liturgy, praise, sacraments, etc. The question becomes, what is the ration of these? How are the ratios changing? What is taking the place of something that is getting smaller? What is taking the place of the people who used to fill the pews? Is it concern over the maintenance of the building? Is it fear of being irrelevant? Is it money concerns?
The neat thing about this whole thing is that we get to choose, as a church, what fills our church. When we fill the church with God, it pushes out other stuff like fear and anxiety. Actually, let me correct that because following God can be the most fearful thing there is – but in a good way. Instead maybe the place gets filled with faith.
When the people are leaving the church, what is filling the void of where the people were? What should it be? What is God calling this church to fill the “emptiness” with? What’s stopping us from doing it/being it?