Nehemiah 13:11 – So I rebuked the officials and asked them, "Why is the house of God neglected?" Then I called them together and stationed them at their posts. (NIV)
It was an old Gothic church built in the early part of the eighteenth century. It sat in what was once the heart of the Bridgeton parish, but when a new bypass was built, the church was isolated from the rest of the community. Over the years, the black soot from industrial chimneys had blackened its sandstone exterior. It looked like something out of a 1950s horror movie. It was not very attractive.
Inside the sanctuary, which once proudly hosted over 500 people, the paint was peeling off the walls, and the ceiling was falling down. It was unfit for worship, and in fact, the small congregation of twenty souls was now holding services in the fellowship hall. What had once been a vital, vibrant church in the midst of a working-class population was now a derelict, dying congregation. The people were faithful, and their minister was a great pastor to the congregation, but despite all of this, the church was in a terminal condition. It was cut off from the life-blood of the community; it had no influence and no pulse; and so it failed.
I asked to be a student pastor of the congregation and was assigned to it for a year. Most of my class peers thought I was crazy, but I wanted to learn why a church dies. My logic was to discover what to avoid, so that any future churches I served would have a better chance to grow. The pastor and the people at Bridgeton taught me well, and any success that I have had in growing congregations may be attributed to the grace of God and my experience at Bridgeton. I think too much emphasis is made upon what are the latest trends in ministry to grow churches. To me, prevention is a much better teacher than seeking a cure.
Perhaps we are in a church that has stopped growing or is declining. Perhaps we are worried about the future, and the latest techniques don't appear to be working. Ask ourselves where our church is making an impact in the community, and then ask God where He is working in that community. That's where we need to be; that's what we need to do; that's how we can grow again.
Prayer: Father God, You have seen churches come and go throughout the ages. You know the history and health of our own congregations. Help us to seek You in the midst of our community, and not just in our congregation. Show us the paths and the people You are working on, and lead us to grow outside of ourselves. Grant us inspiration that leads to influence. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
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