Pretend with me:
You are out and about. You realize you forgot something, and instead of going all the way home, you'll call home and ask someone to come to you.
You remember there was a payphone booth just around the corner, but upon reaching it, you only see the box remaining. The phone is no longer there.
All the same, you dig through your pockets for a quarter to find you no longer carry change. Frantic, you yell out, "Does anyone have a quarter?!" People look at you like you've gone mad. Still, a kind looking older lady comes up to you and gives you one "I hope it gives you what you need," she replies.
You thank her, and then look at the box. Having no other alternative, you chuck the quarter in its general direction, and wait. No phone materializes. You look around the box. What do you do now? Pulling out your iPhone, you call home. "Honey?" you ask. "How do I get an old payphone to start working again?"
When tradition has lost it's purpose.
Yes, the above example is completely and totally ridiculous. We can see it for what it is, because the pieces are/were physically there. Even though there are not very many empty phone booths today, and you’d be lucky to even pick out the cement slab they used to sit on, we can visualize what’s going on.
Aside from Covid-19, the pandemic didn’t bring anything new. It merely sped up what was already happening. The Church was bleeding out before, now it’s hemorrhaging. There are a few congregations that have the appearance of health, and as I’ve written in a previous post, that is a false sign. First the smallest of the churches closed, and those who were left joined slightly larger churches. As larger and larger churches have felt the reality of all this, the largest churches have created a false equivalency of large churches are the solution. In reality, they simply exist because there is nowhere else for refugees of dead congregations to go. And, these refugees want to buy the snake oil of fake growth, because to do otherwise would be to admit that the system, as it stands today, isn’t working.
This is all like watching my closest friends throwing coins at a gutted phone booth; putting their hope in God magically returning the phone. I don’t dare tell anyone that the answer is on us, because they are so nostalgic for what once was they will try to force the phone booth to work with smartphones. My answer is, why are you forcing my wireless connection to God into an obsolete system?
“At least we’re doing something,” is dangerous.
I feel like our desire to just do something in crisis, is not really about solving the crisis. Instead, it’s the immediate need to not be the one who’s at fault. Then, maybe the focus will turn to those who are doing nothing.
What congregants fail to realize is the reason there are people doing nothing, is because God didn’t give them the “coin.” When congregants throw their coin into a gutted box, they are doing even worse than burying it. They won’t even be able to dig it up and give it back. It’s wasted. Literally thrown away. Meanwhile, God’s call is all around them, with means to connect to that call.
It all comes down to this: God never promised to save your building. God never promised to save your location. God never stated that the times around 11am was the only sacred time to set aside and meet God. Just doing something is dangerous because what you are doing is too small, too outdated, and throwing away resources that could be better spent somewhere else.
God did promise salvation. God did promise redemption. That's of people; not places. The longer we throw away our money in those empty husks, the harder it will be to help God follow through on the real promises.
Note: Not all mainline protestant churches are in a bad place, or maintaining what is killing churches today. There are a few that meet the needs of specific people in a specific way while living into now. I don't like drawing attention to those few, because most churches want to believe they are part of the minority, when they are actually part of majority.