“We should go to church on Sunday,” Ruth said to me while strolling through our old college town.
We had attended a small Southern Baptist church a short walk from campus. Even Pastor Gabe was still preaching.
When we arrived, our jaws dropped. It was a large modern church. When did that happen?! It was beautifully done. It wasn’t fancy, but it was inviting with sleek lines and neutral colors on its modern architecture.
“Holy cow!” I exclaimed.
Ruth smiled. “This warms my heart, the church is still doing well.”
One by one, they filed in: everyone was over the age of 65 and white. A few kids sprinted through the sanctuary. This Sunday was a small crowd, with about 25% of the seats taken.
An elderly lady introduced herself. She didn’t remember us, but managed to inquire about our marriage status and said something about the “young colored girl” that sometimes attends. Ah, to be in a yankee Baptist church again.
An old man walked in: Pastor Gabe! I couldn’t get over his gray hair and how much he had aged.
The service was just as I remembered: pastor’s wife at the piano and a young woman sang the old hymns. It warmed my heart. It had been a long, long time.
Looking around there were no families, no young people (except for the worship leader), no one our age, no one my husband’s age. Even more striking, there were no college students.
I remember the days our crew would fill up 2 pews.
Ruth sighed heavily.
Maybe this church wasn’t as healthy as it looked from the parking lot. This was confirmed by the building fund, as they were short on the mortgage budget. Why would they built this huge building without the money? Typical American church. Build it, they will come. Debt is a normal part of ministry! A church isn’t a church without a building! We can’t do the Lord’s work without Sunday School classrooms and a 12 channel soundboard!
This is why I left. This is why I attend a church plant without a building who worries more about getting meals to people in poverty. We don’t track demographics. We don’t have a children’s program, the kids can be the hands and feet of Jesus too, alongside their parents and the brothers and sisters in Christ. Being part of the body means an almost sober homeless guy will shout Amen at the end of every song, babies will cry during the sermon, and you’ll sit next to people you don’t know. You’ll sweat in the summer and freeze in the winter. The American church with their underused air conditioned sanctuaries, dress codes, whitewashed Jesus, and fake smiles does not work for me.
I like my church how I like my coffee: strong, sweet, and made from quality ground beans – beans ground on site, not by an industrial grinder in a factory. None of this instant or Keurig business. I want the real deal or I’ll go without.
The sermon was the equivalent of serving stale cereal without milk. I didn’t even crack my Bible. Gabe cited passages and then glossed over them with uninspired words.
This church was on a ventilator. A ventilator – or a vent as we call it – is a machine that breathes for you. It keeps people alive until they are able to breathe on their own or the plug is pulled. The problem with a vent is it can be difficult to come off it. The body gets used to the machine doing all the work, and like a child who doesn’t want to pick up their toys, it can be a sluggish ordeal to return to normal breathing. The longer the vent is used, the harder it is.
This church was not breathing on its own, and not because the congregation was elderly. No local mission work, very limited community involvement (the customary detachment in a sterile and controlled environment), no bible studies, no other groups using the church other days of the week. Youth groups were gone. No meals served. No presence on campus. A flyer from a Baptist association was in the bulletin. Corporate had arrived, as another drug pushed into this church’s veins, hoping to cure what ailed them.
Ruth and I left sad, both agreeing we wouldn’t attend this church if we still lived in town.
I don’t see it changing without radical actions. This church is stuck in a hospital bed on life support, unable to do the work of Jesus in the world.
Pray for a revival, that this church will once again be a lighthouse for the community, the college, and we can all celebrate it at the Feast of the Lamb someday.