If you go to a museum of natural history, you’re likely to see dinosaur bones of one sort or another. These hefty creatures are no longer with us, but no one really knows why. Lots of theories have been proposed, but there are solid arguments against each one (naturally).
One of the most popular theories (probably because it’s the easiest and most fun to say) is the comet theory. One day, as the theory goes, a large comet swung way too close to the earth and created some catastrophic change in the ecology of the planet. Having drastically invaded their space, it wiped out all the terrible lizards.
Going the Way of the Dinosaur
There are other theories of course (someone counted fifty-five). They include things like meteor showers, geological transmogrification, and the ever popular “disease killed them.” Since no one seems to have been around to witness these phenomena (at least, no one with a pen and paper), we don’t have a proper record to give us the straight scoop. So, for the meantime, let’s go with the comet.
Over the years, many things have gone the way of the dinosaur. In other words, they’ve become extinct. Because of various current circumstances, many people are predicting the same for the church. These predictions are on the rise, and it causes me to ask the question, “When does the comet arrive?”
I fully understand the reasoning for such predictions. The church has, in many cases, become top-heavy. She has been weighed down with passé tradition, political correctness, and tedious programming (just to name a few of her maladies). She has, in many ways, lost her relevance. In a dark world, she has often failed to shine the light she carries.
If you look at a church budget, it’s not uncommon to see that 90% of it is spent on the church herself. After all, we have buildings to maintain, creature comforts to secure, and staff salaries to pay. Financial support is on the wane, and some houses of worship would be abandoned if it weren’t for such things as endowments and trust funds.
The Shape-Shifting Church
When I was in seminary, I remember having dinner with a friend in a restaurant called “The Church.” Its name had a simple derivation. It was an old, abandoned church building. Great food—no worship… To tell you the truth, this may well have been the best use of an otherwise underused edifice. It’s not an uncommon occurrence these days.
It’s no wonder the prognosticators have us dead and buried and are looking to the skies for our fatal comet to arrive. But to them I say, “Not so fast.” While I agree the church as we know it is quickly facing its demise, I believe something better is on the horizon.
The healthiest of congregations are beginning to morph into new creatures. Like sci-fi shape-shifters, they are taking on new, relevant forms and performing needed ministries. I, for one, am excited to see how we adapt when the comet finally hits.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]