This post is from the defunct blog “Dying Church”
It's strange talking about the church dying, as if the church is a person. Yet I feel comfortable personifying the church, since that's what Jesus did, in essence, in Revelation 2 and 3. Still, in New Testament times, what was there about a church that could die? Only people. Sometimes they did die too, in the most literal sense. There was no structure, really, that needed to die, no buildings to be sold, no assets or trust funds to disperse. There was only one church in every city, meeting in different houses, yes, but still the same church. As long as there were followers of Jesus Christ in a given city, there was a church – the church – in that city. We have two impediments (at least) to dying churches today. One is the myth of holy leaders. We've made this professional class of church leaders who've become accustomed to pastoral ministry as not only a calling, but a career. I'm not sure the church is worried about our surivival – we come and go anyway – but we probably are. We're not quite ready to get over ourselves. We probably have to think about when Jesus called Peter from his fishing boat and said, "Follow me." Peter left behind his boats, nets, and livelihood and followed Jesus. What if Jesus asked us to follow him away from our salaries, housing allowances, book funds, health plans, retirement funds? It scares me that we might stand in the way of dying churches because it would hurt our careers. The other impediment is that of holy places. We love our church buildings. Because most in the church think of the church as a building, we talk about wanting to keep the doors open and we can't imagine giving our buildings up. We don't see ourselves as the church in whatever city we live in. We see ourselves as the church that meets at a particular location, and we can't see that changing (unless we move to an even better location). The early church was far from perfect, but they didn't have these two impediments – holy leaders (as a class of professionals) and holy places that just don't want to die.