Abandoned Churches…..Open Hearts
By Rev. Dr. Marty Cauley
Building based Christianity is starting to crumble around the edges. Even as a few churches build multi-million dollar facilities to act as a place of ministry “for the next 100 years,” my travels seem to indicate that more and more church buildings are being left to decay. This is not just happening to small, rural churches, though it is more obvious there, also to once thriving “first churches” in the hearts of our cities and former “mega-churches” who encounter difficult leadership transitions or who just fall out of favor and plummet into decay. Once the building becomes the driving force for all ministries rather than a tool to use to do ministry, the movement nature of the faith community rapidly decelerates, and the monument becomes the object of worship. Even facilities with virtually no debt have the burden of operating costs and maintenance which is ever-growing and never ceasing.
What happened? In a world with bigger and bigger buildings, I believe that Christ followers are beginning to realize how unsatisfying consumer Christianity is. Just because you have a great building, an amazing music program, and a preacher who can make you laugh and bring you to tears, it doesn’t mean you are becoming a disciple. The hole in our soul remains despite moving worship experiences and inspiring messages. We crave more. Those seeking to be real, radical disciples crave living examples of discipleship, not perfect ones. We crave relationship, not showmanship. We crave community, not just crowds.
We crave living examples of discipleship, not perfect ones. The humanity of notable Christian leaders and their personal stumbles have caused most of us to realize that there are no perfect disciples. I think we knew that all along, but when their public image of perfection starts to decay, so does our faith in the community of believers. Now we are at a point where we have given up on the myth of the perfect pastor, and simply seek a living example of discipleship, with all of its messiness and struggles. This kind of discipleship only happens when you live in a close community.
Not only do we desire living examples, but we also want real interaction with those who lead us spiritually. We crave relationship, not showmanship. Real disciples want to walk with Jesus in an intentional relationship with others who are seeking to follow Him. Yes, we love a well-delivered message, but more importantly, we love a well-lived life.
We crave community, not just crowds. It seems everywhere I go there is a crowd and it’s exhausting. I love big venues filled with cheering fans or engaged in powerful worship, but for me, those experiences are like Christmas and my birthday, great for celebration but hard to handle every day. In a crowd, you are one of the masses, and it can be awesome. In real life with its daily struggles and pain, however, the crowd simply reinforces the isolation of our culture. During those times I like the smaller community. I embrace those twenty to fifty people in my life who hold me up to live at a higher level; hold me accountable to be who God wants me to be, and hold me together when my life falls apart.
Lastly, while some studies show that believers continue to gather in large churches, with great worship experiences, and powerful teaching, they are attending fewer Sundays per year and expect more and more from the place and the preacher than ever before. When they come to consume, they want the best product on the market. What if we realized that with the decline in soul satisfaction of consumer spirituality, we are coming to the end of a building based Christianity? What if we actively begin to move back to gathering house to house, home to home? What if every time the whole community gathered it was around the Eucharist table set up in a public square, a rented building, or a public park? What does buildingless belief look like? What if you are a pioneer planter who is more concerned with open hearts than abandoned buildings?