In a recent strategy post we asked the question – When is a church no longer a church? (See this article at https://columbiametro.org/when-is-a-church-no-longer-a-church/.)
We suggested you read and reflect on various passages of scripture. The first one was Acts 1:6-8 which reads in The Message interpretation as follows:
6 When they were together for the last time they asked, “Master, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now? Is this the time?” 7-8 He told them, “You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business. What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.”
While God as the Holy Spirit is present everywhere, some gathered churches give no evidence that the Holy Spirit is active within their membership in ways that lead them to be the type of witness Jesus referred to in this passage. Their actions – or non-actions – and the lack of kingdom progress in and through their church give evidence to spiritual lethargy rather than vitality.
They are spiritless.
The lack of spiritual vitality can stem from many causes such as spiritual complacency, no vision for future ministry, a survival mentality, inadequate leadership, loss of hope, and even perpetual internal conflict. The primary goal of these congregations is the survival of their current church culture so as not to disappoint God and the people who came before them in their church.
They hope someone will – in a football analogy – throw them a Hail Mary pass and they will suddenly return to past glory years.
In the meantime, they hold on to and make less effective kingdom resources in the form of their buildings, the tithes and offerings that keep their cultural enclave going, and the few remaining leaders who could join with leaders in another church for greater kingdom synergy.
At times, these churches have a pastor who is dependent on the income from the church and does not see another way to support his family. He may discourage the church from seeking a greater ministry through trusting God to move them forward in a new way.
Some of the things heard from remaining members are,
“We cannot let this church die. We still have three remaining charter members, and it may kill them for their church to die.”
“This is the only church I have known for so many years, that I cannot leave this church. I cannot let it die. I would have no other place to go.”
“This is the place where I met God. I feel God’s presence here. If I go somewhere else I may not feel God’s presence.”
“I know our church has an expiration date – a date by which we will die – but I would rather let that day come than make any radical changes.”
“I want my funeral to be in this church, so I will do whatever is necessary to keep it going until my death.”
How many of these reasons affirm the words on Jesus from Acts 1:6-8? How many of these words speak to being the witness Jesus told the apostles they would be?
In CMBA we consider these to be UnThriving Congregations. At the same time, they are composed of persons of great worth and value created in the image of God to live and to love. We want to come alongside these congregations to help them seek the forward pulling of God and not the backward pull of tradition and culture.
God’s Holy Spirit knows a way forward for your church!
Next, let’s consider the characteristics of the early church as recorded in Acts 2:41-47.