To put it in biblical terms, Fort Wayne’s St. Joe Community Church has stopped worshipping in tents.
The congregation, planted by the Southern Baptist denomination in 2003, has spent more than a decade of existence wandering from one location to another – in all, three schools and a movie theater, said its pastor, Greg Byman.
In February, Byman said, the 120-member congregation had its first chance to worship in an actual church building, Memorial Baptist Church at 2900 N. Anthony Blvd., after that congregation agreed to a location-sharing arrangement.
Now, Byman says, Memorial has agreed to allow St. Joe to have the building all to itself. The two congregations will celebrate today with a 6 p.m. joint worship service with Memorial’s pastor, the Rev. Dave Mitchell, as St. Joe settles into its first permanent home.This seems to be a quiet but growing trend. Another friend of ours is part of a fellowship that assumed the ownership of another church that was largely made up of older Christians. The future was grim for that group so rather than just having the last member to die turn off the lights and lock the doors, they gave it to a group with more young families and children. Many of the older members stayed on in the new church while others moved on to other fellowships in the area.
In the years to come this will become more pronounced. There are too many small fellowships and simply too few Christians in a land saturated with "churches". As members age and as younger couples seek the more customized religious experiences being offered by the production focused larger gatherings, the left over local fellowships will slowly wither and die. When the money flow slows to a trickle, I expect to see more clergy moving to bigger congregations or just giving up. Since the vast majority of Christians are conditioned to be completely reliant on those clergy, job openings will remain open and churches will struggle along with "pulpit supply" pastors. That is not a long-term sustainable solution so eventually they will just fold up or be absorbed into newer fellowships seeking that all-important permanent location.
Ultimately I expect the number of distinct congregations in America to plummet in the next 10 years. Look back 10 years ago and a lot of what we are dealing as the church was unthinkable. That trend is not going to slow down but rather accelerate. Eat your Wheaties church of the living Christ. It is going to be a rough go for the next decade unlike anything the church dwelling in America has experienced before and I expect a lot of chaff will be separated from the wheat.