Institutions do not die easily. They tend to linger around a very long time. Recently I’ve been listening to some lectures on Medieval/Reformation history and the Holy Roman Empire keeps coming up as a pretty significant illustration of this. The HRE lasted far past its relevance. It might not have actually died till 1807, but it had been comatose for at least a century before its death. Institutions don’t die easily.
I think the phone book is another example. We received our new one yesterday. I honestly can’t tell you the last time I used a phone book. I’m sure there are people out there that do use them and I assume that Yellow Pages still makes a profit off of them (though businesses aren’t immune to simply keeping things around either) but I would bet there aren’t many who still use them. My phone book went directly into the recycling bin and I am sure that a VERY large percentage of others did too.
Institutions, and habits, are hard to kill. This is just a true in the church. Things that served a wonderful purpose at one time tend to last long after they are no longer needed. If you see something stupid in a church you can usually safely assume that at one time it as a brilliant idea that served a real need. The only thing that makes it stupid now is that the need no longer exists and the action continues. This is also true of the churches themselves. It is really ok for a church to die. Its not always a bad thing. Some churches do amazing things with God and then lose their way or the community around them changes in such a manner that they are no longer able to reach it when other can. Such churches never really die, they just slowly fade away in a long, agonizing manner. I have guest preached before at a church whose building once held gatherings with hundreds of people but now only has four that come to it. Such churches will continue to exist even though there is very little life in them. Their not technically dead but that is only a technicality.
Why? I think it is because it takes more courage than most people have to admit that something is over and to decide to move on. It takes a very brave person to say “God did great things through this and now we can push these resources in another direction where He will do great things again.” Instead we usually would rather just let something limp along very slowly to its grave.
We don’t have a lot of examples of this at Tapestry right now for one very simple reason … we are a new church. That’s doesn’t mean that in the future we won’t have examples of things that should be allowed to die. I hope that when we do have such examples we are brave enough to say “its time is over, glory to God for what He did through it, and now what’s next?” I believe we are that brave.