This past Sunday, I preached a sermon entitled, "Church In A Changing Climate." In part, the sermon warned that if churches today aren't proactive in adjusting and reorienting itself to this rapidly changing time in history, then churches will die.
I know that many people believe that churches can't die, but local churches close their doors all the time. In fact, it's been reported that 6,000 to 10,000 churches close their doors for good every year! That's 100 to 200 churches per week!
Despite other churches facing this kind of depressing fate, Pleasant Hope Baptist Church could never die right? I mean. We're good....right?
Here's the truth.
The demographics, data and our current congregational trends make Pleasant Hope Baptist Church a prime candidate to have a rocky and uncertain future.
The Atlantic Magazine published an article today entitled, "America's Epidemic Of Empty Churches." I wish I could make it mandatory reading for every member of our church, but if you read nothing else in the piece, check out this quote from it:
"Any minister can tell you that the two best predictors of a congregation’s survival are “budgets and butts,” and American churches are struggling by both metrics. As donations and attendance decrease, the cost of maintaining large physical structures that are in use only a few hours a week by a handful of worshippers becomes prohibitive. None of these trends shows signs of slowing, so the United States’ struggling congregations face a choice: Start packing or find a creative way to stay afloat."
Pleasant Hope is not immune to this reality. Younger people just don't come to church and connect meaningfully with the ministries of the church like their parents or grandparents did. With exceptions (of course) they don't give financially as consistently as older generations and they're not looking to the church as the sole place where they are spiritually nourished.
Because why go to church when brunch, TV preachers, a nap, individual spiritual practice or just hanging out with friends seems to meet the need just the same?
It's no wonder that the fastest religious group in the U.S. are the people who claim no religion at all.
Thankfully, "budgets and butts" aren't the only metric that determines church vitality, but we'd be foolish to ignore finances and weekly attendance numbers.
On top of all this, it's just a fact of life that people age and die. Despite all of our youthful energy, the reality is that middle aged people and retired seniors are still in many cases the foundation that keeps the institutional life of Pleasant Hope going. However, as the seasons of life change for them and health challenges and shifting physical abilities become more prominent; they can't come to church like they used to or want to...they can't give as much or as consistently as they used to...and they can't provide reliable leadership like they used to.
If no one picks up the baton from where they left off, then that aspect of their contribution to the church floats away with them.
This is part of the reason why I am so adamant right now about investing in youth and young adults while simultaneously re-purposing church property for public good. Being that the immediate demographics of our community skews so young and the base of our current congregation is fading so fast in different ways, we don't have the luxury of time to put this off for later.
Do I believe that Pleasant Hope is going to die next year? Absolutely not.
God is breathing fresh life in so many parts of our church that have me excited about our future. Riding the wave of this energy, I'm preparing to propose a new Young Adult Residential Fellowship at Pleasant Hope and announce the re-activation of the Pleasant Hope Community Development Corporation which will be lead by young adults.
However, the flip side is that if we just try to maintain what we've always done and don't take strategic risks and innovate our ministry while we yet have momentum to do it, then 5 to 10 years from now we're likely to have big problems on our hands.
I believe that we'll be fine. I choose to embrace a theology of abundance rather than scarcity.
I just don't want any member of Pleasant Hope to think that our success as an institutional church is guaranteed and that we can just do church on "cruise control" with minimal effort and sporadic support. That is definitely not a formula for success.