"The closing of Europe’s churches reflects the rapid weakening of the faith in Europe, a phenomenon that is painful to both worshipers and others who see religion as a unifying factor in a disparate society.
“In these little towns, you have a cafe, a church and a few houses—and that is the village,” says Lilian Grootswagers, an activist who fought to save the church in her Dutch town. “If the church is abandoned, we will have a huge change in our country.”
Trends for other religions in Europe haven’t matched those for Christianity. Orthodox Judaism, which is predominant in Europe, has held relatively steady. Islam, meanwhile, has grown amid immigration from Muslim countries in Africa and the Middle East."
Jan. 2, 2015 7:36 p.m. ET (Wall Street Journal)
There is a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of the local church around the world. This misunderstanding is closing the doors on many local congregational churches in Europe and in the US. It is also having a devastating impact on local communities where these churches are closing. Almost immediately there are increases in crime, poverty and unemployment.
For centuries the local Christian church has been a refuge, a help in times of crises, a place for encouragement, a rallying point to address community struggles a network for helping people find jobs, friends and basic needs: food, clothing, shelter. As churches close people in these communities lose immediate access to help, hope and the heartbeat of Christ.
The church will never go away, it is the body of Christ and it’s future is assured. Christians in these communities where churches are closing will move to another community church and join in efforts to help that community. In some cases these Christians may move out of their immediate community to be closer to their new home church. This will add to the loss in the local community: Christian kids leaving local schools, Christian families leaving local business, neighborhoods and friendships.
How did we get here? Simply stated: The Church Lost it’s Mission. But there is more to it. There are 4 primary reasons churches are closing:
1. Many local congregations turned inward to keep the attending sheep happy and lost site of the mission field around them. Churches became country clubs so to speak where you needed membership to access. Beautiful buildings with limited functionality. The very layout of the church assured that only those who understand the rules need attend. The walls adorned with plaques of faithful members who contributed to make sure the décor was preserved and the style maintained. In the face of a changing culture, the wonderful message of the cross is being lost for sake of tradition, habit and dogma.
2. The New Idol. In the absence of “Mission” the message is lost. And in most cases replaced. We are called by God to GO to Church and to BE the Church. When we lose this understanding we lose the value of Church or at least lower it. Culture begins to compete for what had traditionally been considered the Lord’s Day. We believe we can replace or substitute what we miss in a local weekly worship gathering. Today we have pod casts, Christian TV, worship concerts, Youtube, live streaming surely we can replace a missed service.
3. Loss of Mission means loss of members. In truth the average Christian in America is only attending One in four services a month. This makes it nearly impossible to gather the volunteers it takes to put together an organized worship gathering, especially in smaller churches. To staff a children’s program, a worship team, greeters, ushers, media and the many other positions in the church that help us make the weekly worship services the very best they can be and Mission centric.
4. Then there is the financial support needed to keep the local church operating. Across America many churches are struggling weekly to pay the bills. Electricity, gas, water, insurance, building loans, church up keep are a few of the pressings monthly bills that are not optional. Add to that a pastoral salary a full or part time administrator/book keeper. Without financial support the local church will not survive.
The cost of not having a healthy Christian church in the community is always greater than the cost of keeping that church alive.
The local community church is too valuable to ignore. The Mega church can never replace the significance of the community church.
How do we change the trend? Four big steps:
Step One: Pastors and spiritual leaders must articulate the Mission of the church with clarity.
Step Two: The membership must make a commitment to following Godly leadership and putting God’s Mission above personal interests, preferences and style.
Step Three: The local church community must commit to being a healthy body where life change can occur.
Step Four: Membership must commit to support their local church with their time, talent and treasure.