Summary: How to prevent our own extinction in the church: 1.Commitment 2.Relvancy 3.Activity
Last week I watched the movie Armageddon, for about the 1000th time.
In the movie Armageddon the world is faced with an impending disaster. In fact an asteroid the size of Texas threatens to hit the planet earth and wipe out everything on the planet. As our heroes are about to blast off into outer space and save the world the President gives them a send off speech, and in the speech he says something that I haven’t been able to get out of my head.
“for the first time in the history of the planet, a species has the technology to prevent its own extinction.”
Preventing our own extinction.
Extinction usually doesn’t happen over-night, usually it is a gradual process. For one reason or another a species of animal simply cannot maintain its population, and so it begins to decline in overall numbers, until finally there are no more left. Throughout the years there have been many species that have become extinct. As of late many of these animals go on the protected species list and are helped by scientists so that they can begin to replenish their numbers. Without this intervention the species probably would have “gone the way of the dodo”. One prime example of a successful intervention is with the American Bald Eagle, once it was on the verge of extinction, and only recently has it actually been taken off the endangered species list.
The Hebrew word for extinction actually refers more to a candle going out than it does the elimination of an animal species. Imagine how that happens. You never quite know the moment when the candle started to go out, it just begins to slowly shrink, and its light begins to fade, the flame shrinks ever so slowly, until at last its death is marked by a single wisp of smoke.
Every day in our country churches are closing their doors, they simply cannot stay open any longer. Churches that were once full to capacity, life giving, nurturing, caring, loving churches are now struggling to make it from Sunday to Sunday.
I served as pastor of a church like this once. Years ago there used to be a hundred or more in service every week, today they struggle to have 10 on Sunday. All they can think about is how it used to be. None of them ever dreamed that their church would end up like this. They could never imagine that they would regularly talk about what was going to happen when they closed the doors for good. Their thoughts center on how things used to be, how many families used to come now there are 4 families; how the sanctuary used to be full now they meet in the fellowship hall. Now the church sits like a used up candle, a flicker of light that is barely hanging on to the wick.
I can guarantee you that if you asked them 20 years ago if they believed they would soon be a congregation of less than 10, they would have denied it. You probably would have heard people saying, “We’ll be fine, we’re just a smaller church now” or “This church has been open for a hundred years and it will be open for a hundred more.” But, quietly people would be asking themselves where all the people went.
There are many reasons that churches close nowadays, population centers can move away, church fights can divide people, there are probably a hundred other reasons that I haven’t even thought of. But, one thing is sure, many of these churches could have prevented their own closing. Just as our heroes blasted off into space to save the planet, we have the ability to prevent our own extinction. We can intervene, churches today do not have to sit idly by and watch them-selves shrink one person at a time.
In the passage the gardener intervened to save the tree, and to help it out, which would also help the landowner.
Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.
The tree needed to be tended to, it had gotten to the point where it was no longer able to grow and produce fruit, and without the intervention of the gardener it would have gone on the brush heap.
People have done studies on churches, and have found that many have a very predictable life span, and if that life span is not interrupted then that church will eventually close its doors. The most interesting thing about this research is that it applies to all churches, not simply small churches, but large churches face this same reality. But, there is hope we can intervene in this process, just like the gardener helped the tree people can help their churches.