Today was the last time to attend my church.
It really is just as sad as it sounds. My church has closed its doors. I’m completely devastated. I will most likely never get to hear my wonderful pastor teach another lesson. I will never get to share communion with my church family again. I cried during the service. I cried as we prepared to leave. I’m crying now as I write this.
Much of my life was spent, or rather, wasted in bad churches. When asked, I tell people I grew up in the Church of Guilt and Condemnation and have attended local chapters across the country. Poor teaching, non-existent training, a lack of grace, and so much more contributed to how bad these churches were and how ill-equipped I have been as an adult.
When my sons began school, I decided I’d had enough of bad churches and actively sought a good one. I found it! For three glorious years, people who were acting under the direction of the Holy Spirit in the area of their respective spiritual giftedness blessed me and my family beyond measure.
I learned more about scripture in those three years than I had in the first 30 years of my life! It was during that time that I had the most remarkable and most gifted teacher I’d ever experienced. He could exegete the Word of God in ways that leave most people baffled. It left me excited about coming back and learning more. I loved it when he said things like, “When you see the word ‘therefore,’ you need to go back and see what it’s there for.” “God doesn’t grow character in a petunia patch.” “The word ‘always’ can better be defined by the word ‘always.’” I LOVED how this man taught.
But more than a teacher in the church, he was a minister to the individual. During this part of my life, I was still suffering horribly from cyclical depression. At one point, I was on the downward spiral toward the pit once again. I called my pastor, and he gave me the assignment of reading the book of Philippians every day for one month. I did. While a reading assignment is not a substitute for sound medical care that is necessary, this time the Great Physician interceded in my life through my reading. If Paul could sit with the rats, dampness, bodily fluids and excrement, darkness, and loneliness of a prison and write Philippians, I literally had no excuse for wallowing in self-pity and self-destruction.
When he died of cancer and went to live in heaven, I was lost. The associate pastor stepped into that position, and the church moved on. After a few years, terrible circumstances would lead our family away. For several years we shopped around for churches. We tried everything, visited everywhere that held any sign of hope, and were disappointed at every turn. * Oh, how I missed my pastor of old.
Finally, after years in a dry and thirsty land, we found home. This pastor took each verse in order, one at a time, and dug in deep to show us the meaning of every word. Once again, we were at a church that moved past the matter of salvation and onto “what comes next.” He never skipped the difficult or controversial subjects. For three years, I spent each week in anticipation of the next time I would get to hear my pastor teach.
I don’t know what happened. The numbers in church membership declined soon after I started attending there. There were no activities for children, so families began leaving as their children grew. We didn’t have an awesome praise band. There was no bulletin that announced dozens of programs, activities, Bible studies, or social activities each week. What we did have was incredible Bible teaching. Maybe people just wanted to feel good, rather than hearing the truth.
Our church, like hundreds of others across the nation, is a victim to the numbers.
“The United States Census Bureau Records give some startling statistics, backed up by denominational reports and the Assemblies of God U.S. Missions:
- Every year more than 4000 churches close their doors compared to just over 1000 new church starts!
- There were about 4,500 new churches started between 1990 and 2000, with a twenty year average of nearly 1000 a year.
- Every year, 2.7 million church members fall into inactivity. This translates into the realization that people are leaving the church. From our research, we have found that they are leaving as hurting and wounded victims of some kind of abuse, disillusionment, or just plain neglect!
- From 1990 to 2000, the combined membership of all Protestant denominations in the USA declined by almost 5 million members (9.5 percent), while the US population increased by 24 million (11 percent).
- At the turn of the last century (1900), there was a ratio of 27 churches per 10,000 people, as compared to the close of this century (2000) where we have 11 churches per 10,000 people in America! What has happened?
- Given the declining numbers and closures of Churches as compared to new church starts, there should have been over 38,000 new churches commissioned to keep up with the population growth.”**
I’m certainly not an expert on numbers or evaluating the data, so I don’t understand why the numbers are so bad. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to become an expert on how to find a new church. Excuse me while I go cry some more.
*Our favorite disastrous example was the church that, after we’d attended for a year, asked me to serve on a committee that would determine how they wanted people to “feel” as they left the service. Should they feel inspired? Humbled? Happy? I wondered what they would do if the Holy Spirit bothered to show up one Sunday as I pulled out of the parking lot for the last time.