Monday, July 24, 2006

Proliferation Abomination?

My wife and I just returned from about a thousand mile road trip through Missouri, Arkansas and a tiny sliver of Tennessee. What always impresses me as I drive through any part of America is the proliferation of churches of all kinds and sizes.

However, I must confess that when I pull into my driveway I am always depressed because even with all the churches I’ve seen on my journeys, I know in my heart that we’re losing the battle. On this trip for example as I drove through towns and open countryside I came to the quick conclusion that there’s certainly no strategic planning that goes into where and how churches are built. It’s a real hodgepodge (location and architecture) that makes no rhyme or reason.

There was one little town we drove through somewhere in North Central Arkansas. At the outskirts of town is a big (for a country town) Southern Baptist Church. I mean you could tell it was a happening place. Then closer to town sat First Baptist and you knew instantly why the other church even existed in the first place. First Baptist was dull and unexciting, landlocked and obviously in decline. One could almost imagine the Sunday morning crowd sitting in the pews arms folded and thinking, “We didn’t budge”.

We saw Churches obviously trying to become “mega” churches, in the midst of multimillion dollar expansions. Then we saw tiny churches "adding on" with volunteer labor. I couldn’t help but thinking as I passed both, “I wonder who they’re building for?”

Then there were the real small churches we passed on Sunday morning. Six cars at one, maybe ten at another; making me wonder how a Pentecostal preacher can really get wound up for a dozen or so worshippers?

I think I have discovered at least for me the most troubling difference between New Testament Christianity and modern Christianity. It’s the buildings! I believe they make it much more difficult to be a Christian in the modern world. They (the buildings) exist to serve Christians mainly and not the world to whom they are called to minister and witness. They have become escape pods in which we congregate on Sunday.

Then there’s that denominational thing. What does all our denominationalism communicate to the lost and dying world? If it turns me off what must it do to a lost person?

But all is not lost.

We did receive several witnesses.

In a Hardee’s restaurant I watched a lady, obviously a Pentecostal Christian with long hair pulled back in a bun, attempt to pay the clerk two dollars for a drink she had mistakenly received for free on her last visit.

Another lady I talked to on the phone while making an appointment to visit her business on Sunday afternoon, invited us to go to Church that morning with her and her husband.

My wife saw a group of travelers hold hands and pray in our motel parking lot one morning before they left.

And in one university town, we even passed a group of white shirted students with picket signs that were trying to get their message out to passersby. It was a real “The End is Near” type roadside evangelistic event!

So once again I get the message.

It’s not the buildings, stupid!

It’s not even having the right name on your church!

It’s about people, saved people sharing their lives with lost people.

One at a time.