I was visiting a church in the country recently and was told the story of their beginnings. Less than 200 people lived in the village but a new rural highway was coming through town and it was decided to build a church along that highway because – surely – travelers driving between Florida and Maryland would stop, if they happened to be driving through at 11 am on a Sunday morning, and join them for worship. Never mind that there was another church of the same denomination less than five miles away. Never mind that most people don’t stop for Sunday worship if they are traveling up and down the East Coast. Even a hundred years ago, few people had that kind of piety.
The church never thrived as they imagined. The highways travelers didn’t stop for anything but gasoline.
I know another church – actually several – who believed in the mid to late 20th Century, that if they only installed a fine pipe organ, people would come for Sunday worship, for weekday concerts, for holiday sing alongs. The organs were installed but it didn’t make much difference to anyone but the current members. And even some of the members weren’t happy to spend so much money on a pipe organ.
Sometimes we get it wrong. We have a vision. We think it will “grow the church.” Sometimes our visions are wholly about glorifying God and sometimes they are actually about glorifying ourselves.
Peter Drucker famously said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” and never has this been truer. Discernment involves noticing the culture around us and whatever Post-Pandemic Culture will look like, we need to pay attention. Do people stop on highways to attend worship if they happen to be driving by a church building on Sunday mornings? Do most people listen to organ music on the radio? What will truly transform people in the name of Jesus Christ?
This is the question we need to ask God as we pray for guidance moving forward.
Image of a fountain in a church courtyard. This wasn’t their best idea.