Monday, September 28, 2015

Coming Soon To A Religious Building Near You

photo: Hans van Vrouwerf
Check out this photo essay from Atlas Obscura looking at the ruins of Christendom left over in Europe (ht: Tim Challies ). The photos are haunting and a little sad but not simply because these buildings are empty but more for what they represent, namely the hubris of man seeking to create our own little religious empires, empires that were fueled by the contributions of people who no longer find them useful. The photographer, Hansvan Vrouwerf, is quoted as saying, in response to the question of why he takes these photographs:
It’s not because I’m religious of any kind—far from it, actually. But what attracts me is the fact that faith and believing seems to be  [becoming a thing] of the past. The modern life and the fast pace we are moving in almost seems to rationalize people a lot more.  But a place of worship will remain even though nobody is interested anymore. That’s actually the most fascinating part to me: How could this happen?
Check out his webpage in the links for higher resolution photos plus some extras not in the article. 

Make no mistake, this is the path America is headed down and more quickly than many imagine. We live in a pretty religious area and we have empty churches in the vicinity so I can't imagine what it will be like in 10 or 20 years. The article quotes a staggering statistic:
It’s estimated that every year between 4,000 and 7,000 churches close down in the USA. In Europe, the statistics vary by country: approximately 20 Church of England churches are closed per year in the UK; in Holland, the statistics are much higher, at around two per week.
That is a huge number, even if it is only 50% correct that still amounts to dozens of churches a month. When you add in the churches that are holding on by their proverbial fingernails, populated mostly by gray haired old ladies, it looks even more grim. The pace is going to accelerate in the coming years

So what to do, assuming one sees local fellowships closing down as a bad thing?

First, we need to disentangle ourselves from Christendom lest it drag us down with it. This is not the time to double down on Christendom and invest even more in buildings which will possibly sit empty 20 years from now. The church needs to learn to thrive on less money and be content with less influence. The head in the sand approach advocated by many church "experts" is a recipe for disaster.

Second, we need to reaffirm and strengthen our commitment to sound teaching and sound practice. That is also contrary to conventional wisdom which tells us we need to jettison anything that is vaguely offensive. While that course might work in the short term to attract people who aren't really interested in Christianity, it is eventually going to fail as people get bored with it. Every religious denomination that has tried this has either functionally ceased to exist, gone into schism or is headed for one or both of those outcomes. So don't listen to those who would diminish the value of teaching and doctrine. Abandoning those is not going to save a religious group in decline and in most cases seems to accelerate it.

There is not much we can do to avoid seeing pictures like this in America but there is plenty we can do to prepare for that day. The real question is, will those who lead the church try to cling to the past or will they lead to the future?

1 comment:

Bethany in Mid-MO said...

These photos are gorgeous . . . yet sad.