When did you start to die?

June 28, 1914.  Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary,  was assassinated by Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip in in Sarajevo.  

Sometimes it's easy to look back and see the beginning, how something started,and what events led to the place you're at today. The Great Recession can be traced to Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929.  World War 2 began with September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland.  Even in your own life you might note when you first met your spouse, your first date, or your wedding day.  The death of a loved might also mark change in your life, easily traced back to the day of their first signs of illness or diagnosis.

Other times, it's not so easy to see the beginning.  It's harder to pinpoint when you begin to get old, when a marriage begins to fall apart, or when a church begins to die.

I recently saw two churches, within one mile of each other. They  actually had the same name, (NW Baptist vs NW Christian) Both had big old buildings and historic ties to the area.  Both were in the same changing neighborhood.  Both faced the white flight and changing demographics.  But only one church had a thriving ministry. It had three ethnic churches that shared it's campus, had a thriving ministry to the surrounding community, and was full of worshippers on Sunday.  The other church was not only struggling, they had to close their doors.  Their big old building was empty, while the church down the street was full.

It's tempting to want to dig through their records, their business meeting and board meetings, to try and pinpoint the date it all went wrong.  I doubt you would find anything very clear though.  It's unlikely that you can go back to one decision, one meeting, or even one pastor when it all started to go wrong.  There's not an event outside of the church in the community either, that led to the closing.  Because the church down the road faced all the same changes over the last 50 years.

It's usually not one big decision that leads to the death of a church.  It's a thousand small decisions.  The weekly, even daily decisions that are made to focus on member's comforts over the community's lostness.  Every time the decision is made to reward gossip instead of focus on prayer, or avoid conflict by giving into church bullies, a church dies a little.  The big decision to close the church was precipitated by a thousand small decisions to ask lost people to come to them, instead of imploring saved people to go out and share.  The unwillingness to share a pew with someone who looks different, or sing a new a song, or stand up for truth.  These are the decisions that lead to the death of a church.

Sometimes a church downfall is traced to scandalous affairs, or stealing money, or some other large drama. But even these events are set up by the small decisions of those involved.

It works the other way, too.  We might show up on a Sunday thinking, this is the day that it all changes. Revival will come, God's spirit will fall, the church will turn the corner towards health.  The decisions that lead to a church's death are numerous and small ones.  The decisions that lead to a church's health are numerous and small as well.  The daily decision by members to die to themselves, to focus on others, the willingness to be uncomfortable to reach others for the gospel.  The weekly preaching of sound doctrine, the choosing of gospel over comfort. This is how a church gets healthy.

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