This was part of my Facebook feed, from four years ago today, via a friend and contemporary,
Pastor Francis Schroeder of Holy Cross Lutheran Church Nederland, Texas. He writes....
I had an interesting visit from a person knocking at my church door this Sunday afternoon.
I invited him to sit down in my office and I told him that his congregation no longer existed. It had closed several years ago. He had a puzzled and shocked look on his face and wondered how and why would a church with a long history ever close? "Churches don't close, do they?", he asked.
Yes they do was my reply.
Churches do not receive government support, most do not receive subsidies or grants from corporations or non-profit organizations. All exist on the gifts and offerings of members, friends, and guests.
"But what about this family, or that family, and that family? They have always been there and they always supported the church?"
Well, the first family you asked about moved to be closer to their grandchildren, the second family you asked reside in a nursing home, and the other families you asked about have divorced, or moved because of a job transfer, and some now reside in heaven.
"So what happened then?", he inquired.
I simply responded, "Our society is one where Sundays are no longer filled with people eager to be in the house of the Lord. Many pews are empty and fresh Sunday bulletins are left untouched and hymnals unopened. On Sundays younger families opt out for other events with their children and youth; for others each and every three-day weekend is another weekend absent from God's house, and for others there are countless reasons which keep them away from worship."
I asked my new friend how long was he away from his now closed church. He responded, "21 years, but I thought St. John Lutheran in Port Arthur would always be there!"
My new friend didn't realize and understand that a portion of offerings and tithes is used to keep the ministry going plus the army of volunteers is needed to serve and step up to the plate. Without those two key elements the broader ministry is regulated to continual cuts and cuts and cuts until it is eliminated. Staff positions are consolidated until they are no longer funded. The empty leadership positions are often left unfilled. Called professionals preach, teach, work, and serve tirelessly but often decide to give up because they have become disappointed and disillusioned with ministry.
I shared with him that I have 20% of my seminary classmates from 1984 literally disappear from the face of the earth. They have chosen to unplug, get off the grid, or distance themselves from church, their classmates, and sadly, even some from the LORD.
Such things, I explained to my new friend, is happening today in many locations across this land.
I was able to take him into our sanctuary and showed the 1928 baptismal font we received from St. John Lutheran Church before it closed. He gently touched the cover and the ceramic basin which held the waters when he was baptized years ago.
He said, "But it is gone."
No I said, "It is still here", and I pointed to the pews in the sanctuary, "but it needs for you to be here, to sing, to pray, to worship, to celebrate, and to join in serving, in order for it to reach the world. The WORD OF GOD will always remain but the local congregation is always one generation away from extinction."
My friend thanked me, shook my hand, and promised to return.
I hope and pray that he does......and many others as well.
*Thank you Pastor Schroeder for giving us permission to reprint this article.