Visiting with my grandmother in North Carolina, she bemoaned the decrease of her small Quaker church, fretting like many in her generation over the dearth of younger people in attendance. Without them, her little congregation is destined to wither away.
It reminded me of an interesting idea I heard recently. What if churches were started with expiration dates? New churches would plan for both their ground-breaking and grave-digging. Set an expiration date just far enough in the future to accomplish a specific mission, or at most, satisfy the spiritual needs of a single generation–just enough time to get folks married, baptized and buried. Know the date of your funeral and you would generate a bucket list of ministry that would have all the energy that urgency demands. Just like in the New Testament, an imminent expiration date would build an eschatological mindset into a church’s life. As with the Christian life in general, the end would be always in view. Moreover, resurrection would likewise stay in view too. A particular church would die in order to give way to new birth allowing for the Church of Jesus Christ to remain fresh and vital and ever-creative, anticipating life to come.
Experience teaches how the energy available at the creation of new things inevitably ebbs once the necessity of maintenance encroaches. Churches add staffs and structures, and soon institutional preservation soon takes precedence over mission. You got to pay the bills. You got to hire the custodians. You have to pay to keep the ministry going since every expects it but nobody volunteers to help anymore.
Set an expiration date and you wouldn’t bother with a building because you’d need those resources to accomplish your calling. Time would be of the essence. Staff would remain lean and hungry. There would be no concern over mission creep. Focus would be required. And you’d never fret over whether enough young people attended because they would represent a next generation and new creation.
I love this idea, except that I need to go and prepare for a personnel committee meeting and next fall’s capital campaign.