Churches are struggling these days, including those of the Presbyterian variety. I read this morning of First Presbyterian Oswego, Kansas that is closing its doors after decades of service. Basically, the church started seeing significant membership decline in the 1990s and today it is down to where most Sundays recently have had about eight folks. A fifty year old man said he was the youngest in church. They have decided to sell the building. I mourn for the future every time I see this happening. Churches, particularly of the mainline variety, have developed many current and future leaders in society and helped countless people on the margins. You can’t simply replace this at home or at the “big box” church down the road.
While there are many factors at play, not all of which rest on our shoulders, I think there is something we can do far better. And to make the point, I point to an upcoming HBO scifi series I am looking forward to: Westworld. It is being made by JJ Abrams off the old Michel Creighton story (I loved the 70s movie as a kid) that was made into a movie. For those unaware of the old story – basically in the future we start building amusement parks that have very lifelike robots where the rich can go and live out their fantasies. Of course, things go askew when the robots stop listening to their human masters. It seemed a cautionary tale years ago about taking the brakes off our bad impulses. The new story is much the same but kind of with a different twist. The androids become sentient and when they become self aware, and aware of who the humans are, they decide they do not want to be like us.
What does this have to do with church? I think, sometimes, we like to lean on the crutch of saying, “the church isn’t a pantheon for saints but a hospital for sinners.” Perhaps so. But shouldn’t we be upping our game a bit? If someone is getting burned in life – home, work, neighborhood, etc and they want to find a place of spiritual solace and comfort – shouldn’t we be at our very best about not letting our petty, weak, and sinful natures reign – especially at church. I am not suggesting that church is like “Westworld” where people indulge their darkest fantasies sometimes. But I do think that we write off bad behavior sometimes and just attribute it to sin. That may be the cause but it is not the solution.
The last thing we should want is for people to come to church and think, “I don’t want to be like them.”
What do you think?