by Doug Pollock
Sue and Kathy were lifetime friends and soul mates. They grew up in the same neighborhood, went to the same schools, and attended the same church together. After graduating from high school and going on to college, their lives took them in different directions.
Fifteen years later—much to their surprise and delight—they found themselves living back in their old hometown. Both were now married with families of their own. Sue and Kathy wasted little time catching up and dreaming of a life for their kids similar to the one they’d had. Since the church had played a significant role in their formative years, they made plans to have their families worship together the following Sunday.
Sue and Kathy were giddy as they entered the church that day. It was like a homecoming! All the familiar faces from yesteryear were there to greet them. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before Sue and Kathy were fighting feelings of dismay. As they looked around, there was no one in the church under the age of 55. Unbeknownst to them, this vibrant church began to plateau shortly after they’d left for college. Now their church was on life support. The declining membership was made up of the same people who had taught Sunday school and led worship when Sue and Kathy were in high school.
While they loved these people, the handwriting was on the wall. In another 15 years, this church would probably have to close its doors unless something drastic happened. Sue and Kathy were not about to let that happen. They decided to meet three times a week to go on prayer walks through their neighborhood. As they walked and prayed, they would stop and invite their neighbors with younger families to church. Weeks went by, and nobody came. Finally it dawned on them: Maybe they needed to spend less time telling God what they wanted and spend more time listening to him.
Sure enough, after their third prayer walk ended, both were beaming. Kathy and Sue felt that God had given them a vision for the future of their church. Excited, Sue shared her vision with Kathy first. “God showed me a sidewalk leading from our neighborhood to the front door of our church. It was filled with people from our neighborhood who were making their way to our church on Sunday. God promised me that if we continue to do what we’ve always done and remain faithful to him, he will bring people to us.”
Kathy looked puzzled. Sue sensed her friend didn’t share her enthusiasm, so she asked her what was wrong. Kathy replied, “I’m perplexed! The vision God gave me is completely the opposite of yours.”
Sue was baffled. “What did God show you?” she asked.
“God showed me the same sidewalk,” Kathy said. “However, the streams of people were actually leaving the church, not coming to it. God’s people decided it was time to go to their neighborhoods and learn how to be the church instead of waiting for their neighbors to come to them.”
Questions to wrestle with:
If Kathy and Sue brought this conundrum to you and asked you to decide who had heard from God, what would you tell them?
Which vision gives you the most hope for their church’s future?
Do you know any churches that are 15 years away from closing their doors? If so, what practical and authentic steps would you lay out to turn that scenario around?
For more food for thought on these questions, pick up a copy of my book God Space: Where Spiritual Conversations Happen Naturally (also on Amazon.)