church buildings

Five Things That Are Holding Christianity Back

Ball and chain holding person back, Air0ne /
Ball and chain holding person back, Air0ne /

I’m often asked about what trends I see within Christianity, both good and bad. So in my ongoing effort to help name trends and offer an alternative way of thinking about our faith, here are the five biggest things I’ve seen that tend to keep us from doing our best work as the living, breathing body of Christ in the world today.

1. Church Buildings — Many of our church buildings were established in a time when Christianity was booming numerically in the United States. We could hardly keep up with the growth happening all around us. Understandably, churches popped up where the people were too, drawing many away from their old downtown churches to a more convenient suburban community. But as our numbers have dwindled – combined with the fact the we’re a much more mobile society now that ever before – many churches are becoming monuments to what has long since passed. They have become an albatross rather than an asset.

Helping Churches Die Right

Collapsed church, Pattie Steib /
Collapsed church, Pattie Steib /

I was having lunch with another couple in ministry that shared a disturbing story with us. The problem isn’t so much in the uniqueness of the story they told, but rather in how incredibly common it is.

The couple had connections to a congregations several hours away that is located in the heart of a thriving urban center. The aging congregation was down to only 40 regular attendees and had released all of their paid staff, opting instead for volunteers to lead worship for them when they could secure them.

Meanwhile, they gathered in a building, valued at roughly $9 million, which they could not afford to maintain.

This church, like so many others, seeks answers to questions about how to survive in an increasingly secular, disparate, and religiously wary culture. Their hope, like plenty of other churches, is that something or someone will come along to save them, keep the institution going and propel them into the future for another century.

Oh, as long as they don’t have to change.

Heavenly Energy

Imagine a church that not only views taking care of the earth as a fundamental Christian value, but whose green consciousness is at the heart of its gospel; a church that not only talks about responsible stewardship, but has photovoltaic systems mounted on its rooftops; a church that not only feeds solar power into the local grid, but inspires and supports other congregations to follow suit.

A Lutheran congregation and its intrepid pastor in the small Black Forest town of Schönau (population 2,382) are at the forefront of the solar revolution in Germany. With 431 solar modules on its rooftops, Schönau’s Bergkirche (Mountain Church) generates more than 40,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, enough for eight churches of its size. Dubbed “Creation Windows,” the installation feeds what Pastor Peter Hasenbrink calls “heavenly energy” into the local grid that’s run by one of Germany’s largest cooperative clean energy companies.

The Creation Windows didn’t happen overnight. The seed was first sown when a handful of concerned parents, alarmed by the dangers of nuclear power after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, turned to their church for support. Ursula Sladek, a mother of five and 2011 Goldman Environmental Prize recipient, recalls telling her husband, Michael, a doctor who was a member of Bergkirche’s council at the time, “This is also the church’s concern, because we’re dealing with God’s creation here. We can’t just destroy it like that!”

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