Jump Start # 2251
Revelation 3:2 “Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.”
Our verse today comes from the Lord’s assessment of the church in Sardis. Things were not going well, at least from God’s perspective. He described the congregation as being dead. It was time to do something. It was time to change things. It was time to get on the ball or else the entire place will be dead. Wake up, is what the Lord demanded. Strengthen what remains! This was a church on life support. Now, what we are not told about Sardis is the size of the Sunday morning crowd, or, whether or not they had any leadership or even if they had their own preacher. With or without those things, the church was in a grave condition. Worse, it seems that they were clueless and oblivious to their true condition. Had the Lord not said what He did, they would have carried on until there was no life in them at all.
Throughout my area, and actually, all over this country, there are many small congregations that need to take a serious, serious look at where they are and what they are doing. Congregations that are less than thirty in number struggle. They struggle financially. They are very limited because of their resources. With every funeral, things look bleak. There are quite a few congregations that would love to see thirty people on a Sunday morning. They number under twenty. They have just enough contribution to pay the elect bill to keep the doors open. Few children are found in these places, and what they have are all brought together in one or two classes that cover large age differences. These small places lack the resources and the know-how to use social media to reach the community. They cannot afford to invite a visiting preacher in. So, year after year, they keep the doors open and no one publicly says what everyone is thinking, “How much longer will we keep this up.” And, on top of that, too often the quality of teaching and the input of fresh ideas doesn’t exist. These places drift, holding on to the memory of days gone by when they were much larger. But those days are gone for them. And, without leadership, no one knows what to do other than just do what we are currently doing.
Within driving distances of these places are larger congregations. There are options there if they would put down their pride and seek some help. First, they could get ideas from what larger congregations are doing. Second, they could ask for some help from some of the brethren in larger congregations. Thirdly, they could discuss selling their church building and merging with a larger congregation. But, most times this never happens. NEVER.
Many have already made up their minds that they do not like a large congregation. So, they sit in a group of about twelve, faith dwindling, never growing, and just keeping house. They have made up their mind that large congregations are “too large” and that you can never know everyone in a large congregation. Yet, within just a few miles of them, is a place that has functioning leadership, multiple classes for all ages, all kinds of tools, helps and new faces showing up all the time. Here is a congregation that is growing. They are doing things and the members are extremely active. But, stubborn as some are, they would rather dwindle down to three people than to pull the plug and be part of an active and thriving congregation.
Most preachers that I know would gladly help out a group that is wanting to try, but that often is the problem. Some congregations like being small. They don’t want new faces and new people. They are content with just what they have. Evangelism doesn’t really exist in these places. The bulk of what they do is simply maintain what they have. Many books of the Bible, from Revelation, Ezekiel, Leviticus, Daniel are never studied because there is no one there capable of teaching those books. Classes never vary. Verse by verse, over and over and nothing challenging, and nothing moving the people into more activity. Hospitality is extremely rare in small congregations because everyone already knows each other, so why have them in your home?
The atmosphere and appearance in most of these small congregations is old, and outdated. A new coat of paint and some intense polishing and cleaning would do wonders, but who will do that and that will cost money and there isn’t any. So, old curtains, faded and ugly hang in the windows. Papers are stuck here and there. In many places, the baptistery area is filled with mold, which is a health issue. But there is no one to take charge in cleaning the place up and no money to afford the supplies necessary to do a good job. So, year by year, the place deteriorates. The appearance, the atmosphere, the mood, the activity all seems stale, lifeless and dying.
As we end a year, and launch a new year, what plans, what goals, what future lies with some of these places? So sadly, nothing will be done until there remains only one or two couples left. Then in desperation, something will have to be done. And, in this long process of death of a congregation, there has been other costs that few realize. What young people were there, are gone and gone for good. They never had a faith that grew nor was fed. Others finally give up, so discouraged and so down spiritually, one wonders if they can ever find joy again spiritually.
Why are we so wedded to a congregation and not so wedded to Christ? Why do we hang on until a congregation dies and even with that we do not seek advice, help or ideas for anyone else? Why are we so set against the size of a congregation without even trying? Why do we allow our pride to color the reality before us?
I have preached in places like this. In one place, I had to step outside because the smell of mold was so strong that I couldn’t breathe. I got sick after preaching one time there. I can only imagine what that was doing to the people week after week. Some of these places have such a closed mentality that if any new face showed up, they’d be stared down by everyone to such a degree that they would never come back.
I suggest two things: first, let’s try a few things to put life and energy in these dying places. Second, let’s have a serious and open discussion about the future. Is it time to just close the doors? Many of our readers know people in these small, small congregations. I hope that you would share this with them. It’s time to have some discussions. Are we really being good stewards of God’s money when we simply keep the doors open on a dying congregation?
Sadly, I fear another year will pass, and nothing will change. Another funeral and yet nothing will change. Is this what the Lord would want?
It’s time for some serious looking and some serious talking.