A few weeks ago I went to visit my parents. My wife had never seen the church that my dad is a pastor at. It’s an old church, the original building was built in the 1870’s and rebuilt in the early 1910’s after a fire. It is out in the middle of farm country. It was never a large church, but at one time had over 90 people that would attend on a regular basis. Now . . . 20 in attendance is a good Sunday.
When we pulled up to the property, it brought back a lot of memories. When things were a lot simpler. There was no fancy sound system or visual displays. The heating is a furnace that when it kicks on there is no turning it down. The air conditioning is some window units that were put in about 20 years ago. If you looked out behind the church, you would still see the old outhouse. The church has bathrooms now, they were storage rooms converted to bathrooms. In places the plaster is getting rough and has had to be patched in places.
Looking at some of the old photographs, the dress was simple. From the stories told from the oldest generation living, some of the men’s best were a clean pair of coveralls. I remember many times that the men that would come were dirty still from the field on Wednesday nights. Nobody cared what was worn, because you were there to worship God. Church was a time to see if your neighbor needed help in the field in the following days.
There were not activities going on night after night. Church was a formal place to meet once or twice a week, but many times people had seen each other several times in the week to help out one-another.
Fast forward 70+ years and we’re in a generation where these types of churches are struggling. People want to send their kids to the town churches where they have more kids, so more programs. They like the churches with the nicer pews/seats and the audio/visuals. Many people don’t quite even know what to do with a hymnal anymore.
I remember when I was in college and my Dad took over the church, I would come down in the summers and some weekends. I didn’t really want to be there. I was the only person under 50. I wanted to go to a “normal church”.
When I pulled up in the parking area, a gravel lot extension off the farm road, nostalgia started. There are a few members that are still living from when I went there. I’ve attended several funerals for individuals who were members. What I remembered was the people. I remember the ones that would do anything for you. The men would be in the field all day, obviously worn out, but would be willing to help out someone in the church. If someone was sick the ladies would make sure the family had meals.
There wasn’t the hustle and bustle of a larger church. Most activities were done by the whole church. There was only one Adult class and maybe a couple kids classes. Everyone knew each other. After the service people would linger to talk to everyone. You almost didn’t need to ask for prayer requests because people already knew what your needs were.
Nowadays, people want to be entertained at church. They want state of the art sound and audio. They want to be comfortable with the temperature. They want to preacher to give a good sermon that makes them feel good. They want activities all the time, so they can be engaged. They want a church with lots of people, so they can know more people. Yet with larger church and more activities, these people know very few people, and a lot of what they know of people is superficial. It’s easier to hide in a bigger church, I know, I’ve been there. I could go into church, hear the message, and then walk out without anyone really knowing I was there. I’m not saying big churches are bad, there are pros and cons to every church.
The point to this post, the activities, the size, the appearance, and even the preaching do not make the church. The people do. The point of church is not to be entertained or to feel good about ourselves. It is about worshiping and being with other believers. There is a lot to be said about a simple church (I would suggest reading this book).