This weekend, I got to hang out with a good life-long friend who is very active at Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois. I shared a couple of links that discuss the issue of their primary ministry to twenty-somethings being closed down for lack of interest. My friend shared with me that the "Axis" worship service, though once 2000+ strong had gotten down to around 200 people.
Apparently, the service was having a difficult time getting the folks who had outgrown the target age group to move on. So there were a lot of thirty-somethings there, but not many twenty-somethings coming into the worship service. Then the leadership publically told the thirty-somethings that they really needed to move on and quit attending that worship service. My friend said that may have been the straw that broke the camel's back for the declining service.
My friend also said that it feels to him that Willow Creek is going through a slump. He senses a lack of energy and lower moral among some of the ministry leaders that he knows.
I gain a few important points from this situation at Willow Creek.
1) Even the big churches go through tough times.
I know its easy to feel that church life is euphoric and continually blessed with excitement at those churches, whereas most of us are just slugging along trying to hang in there.
2) Its OK to shut down a ministry that is no longer meeting its original need.
I don't think God intends us to put ministries on life support after they fail to be effective. I applaud Willow Creek for being bold enough to say, "Its just not working anymore." May we follow their example whenever the need arises.
3) The megachurch movement is yet to come of age.
History tells us that every movement (except the Kingdom of God) that experiences explosive growth will at some point slow down. Why do we think that any movement can perpetuate continual explosive growth? There comes a time when faithfulness of believers needs to be cultivated by the long haul of steadfast discipleship. Excitement-based conversion must evolve into maturity or its not real.
I foresee that this is just the beginning of the slowing down of many of our adolescent-aged megachurches. Thanks be to Jesus for the role that they have had and do have in furthering his glorious kingdom. May we also be faithful in our callings regardless of the excitement level at our churches.