I’ve read numerous articles and heard stories about churches closing their doors. I’ve had people come into our church family who tell me that they don’t have a “membership to transfer” because their previous church had disbanded.
Churches close for a variety of reasons. These have been cited in numerous publications and played out in congregations in many different settings. Usually churches close due to declining attendance, decreasing financial contributions, and gradual and consistent change in the neighborhood around the building itself.
When I received a message that College Place Baptist Church was shutting down, I couldn’t believe it. I don’t know why I couldn’t believe it, except that I didn’t know of any churches on a personal level that had closed. This time was different.
I grew up in College Place, and started attending there when my family moved into a small farm house right down the street. I attended the elementary school right across from the church, so my world was Sherrouse avenue.
It’s been a few decades since I attended that church, but remember being part of youth choirs, missions organizations, and the puppet ministry. We went to Glorieta on more than a few occasions (it’s now defunct too), and had numerous other experiences which have stayed with me to this day.
I mention this church because it has had a profound influence upon my life, and a great deal of what I’ve been able to do and be has its roots in that congregation. I dare say no one (especially myself) could have envisioned that a boy roaming the halls of that building would grow up to be a pastor.
I’ve read a lot of articles and books about church growth and what a church is supposed to be about. There are all kinds of programs, activities, and events that are associated with the work of the church. Still, what is most important, in my view, is that lives are forever changed for the better because of a church’s witness and influence.
I received a wonderful Christmas card a few weeks ago from a woman named Julia. She is Carolyn’s grandmother, one of the Missouri State students who graduated this month and attended UHBC during her four years in school. Julia thanked our church for our encouragement of Carolyn and our investment in her life.
That card meant a lot to me, and I shared it during our last worship service of 2017. It’s a good reminder of what the church should be doing; our work should be about helping people deepen in their relationship with Christ.
That’s what College Place did for me more than four decades ago. I’m so grateful for all those who were in that church while I was growing up physically and spiritually. I hope that our church now can have that kind of impact on students who come our way, and also provide a spiritual home for others who can spend more time with us. Survival is not the ultimate goal of a church; it’s investing time and resources in human beings for the cause of Christ.
There’s a lot of unknowns when it comes to what’s yet ahead, but what is known is that God remains faithful and able to provide for what is needed and when it is needed. Yes, I am a pastor but much more than that, I’m a follower of The Way. And, I hope that I can trust the Lord for what is yet to come and be excited about the opportunities and challenges of a year.
Psalm 31:14-15 is a good place to begin 2018: But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.
Not one of those charter members could have imagined what College Place would accomplish in its seven decades of life. Today I celebrate its impact upon my life and for all the “saints” that have gone on to glory from that congregation. They entrusted their future in the Lord’s hands, and completed several generations of ministry while impacting thousands of lives with the gospel. That’s a wonderful legacy.
For now, and for where I am today, I celebrate the beginning of another year. I’ll do my best to live in the now and lean into each moment as it comes. I’m sure I’ll revisit the words of the psalmist when anxiety creeps in about what’s going on (or not going on) in the church and my family. And, I hope to remain secure in who I am as a follower of Christ regardless of my circumstances.