I read an AP story about a church in Texas that closed its doors for the last time. According to the article, Pleasant View Baptist Church was never the biggest or the best known church in the Bible Belt, but it was a long, steady presence in the Christian community. Finally, it seems that a long, stead period of decline caught up with the congregation. The pastor, Bob Hendley, is quoted as saying that the church "just ran out of people." (You can see the AP brief here.)
Really? Ran out of people?
I'm sure there's more to it than that. I'm sure it's a combination of demographics and cultural shifts. But there's something particularly damning about a pastor saying that his church just ran out of people.
The point I'd like to make isn't that Mr. Hendley should have done anything different. (Again, I don't know his story or his church's story.) Instead, I'd like to say that church leaders--both ordained and lay--like me need to take a hard look at what's going on in the church and world around them to make sure that we never get quoted in the paper saying, "We just ran out of people."
That phrase reminds me of the episode of The Twilight Zone called "Time Enough at Last," in which a banker who loved to read happens to have been in the company vault when a nuclear holocaust takes place. He emerges to discover that his city is an empty shell of its former self, leaving him all the time he wants to read. (For the ironic ending, you'll have to watch the video below.)
What does it mean to be a church that runs out of people? When our pews are empty and we close our doors for the last time, will it be because the people disappeared or because we let them walk away? What are we going to do to stay relevant to twenty-first century people? Are we just going to stand around and shrug our shoulders, or will we take the people and their needs seriously--enough so to make sure we never end up in the paper like that?