On April 16th I wrote about one of the churches in Western North Dakota that has opened itself up to the folks that are flooding into the area to find work and how some church members don’t like it. “We didn’t build the church to house the homeless or the indigent” they say, and I asked the question – what did you build it for? We had better be careful when we answer that question but we had better answer it.
We have talked about the fact the Methodist church is in crisis and asking something along these lines; what is the church for? We have in our circles questions that need to be addressed. Is the church a hospital or a gymnasium? Should the church be about proclamation and catechesis or about mercy and care?. Is the church to protect the Gospel or give it away?
All of the above does not seem to be a reasonable response for many. And that leads to our stewardship questions and difficulties.
Here is a picture of a fellowship hall in a church in the oil patch being used for a purpose that I would guess none of the members ever even considered.
The truth is that years ago we built wonderful facilities to take care of the faithful. They were meant for the faithful and built for the comfort of the faithful. When and if new members were brought into the church one of the things they found out very quickly, almost as if there were an inservice for such things, was the care and treatment of the church. They also found out about wrath if they spilled coffee in the fellowship hall or tracked mud into the entry way.
We missed the prophets out there that told us that something was going on in the world and that we needed to change. They were saying that we needed to change, not the message but the way the message was packaged. We called them “Church Growthers” and got angry at them. We held entire conferences and talked about how wrong they were and while all that was going on the world was changing ever faster. The “church building as witness” crowd missed the fact that for many people the bigger and fancier the building the less attractive it was. The “church is only for proclamation” crowd missed the fact that their evangelism was the worship service and that most people were terrified to be dragged into the church to hear the message in the first place. The church as only witness and relationship crowd missed the fact that usually that type of ministry is really about the preacher and his popularity and when he goes away most of the people that came into the church during his tenure go away too.
We didn’t listen because for years there was no reason to. We had something called the “baby boomers” and they filled our churches with their babies and our Sunday Schools over flowed. Now the babies are gone and they have moved away and we have fewer and fewer of the faithful left to continue the upkeep of those marvelous facilities. When we use them for something like caring for indigents the old issues rise up again.