The wonderful thing about language is that it grows and adapts to the linguistic landscape. When I grew up, a “mouse” was a little furry creature that scurried around at night. When I was growing up no one would know what a “blog” was, and certainly it would be mystifying if someone said in answer to a question, “just Google it.” Our family lived in Britain from 1995 to 1998. One of the new phrases we learned there was the term for a church which had dwindled down to nothing and eventually sold off to become a movie theater or renovated to become a condo. There are so many churches closing in Britain that they had to have vocabulary to talk about it. The phrase is a “redundant church.”
As the Western world moves into a post-Christian phase we will see thousands of churches close over the next few decades. Perhaps we in North America will learn to use the phrase “redundant church” in the years to come. There is already a Wikipedia page on it. The good news is that the sunset of some parts of the church will be accompanied (simultaneously) by the sunrise of many new vibrant church movements who have rediscovered the potency and beauty of the Christian gospel. This is happening all across the country. The missional space where church “closings’ meets church “plantings” is the greatest sign of this transition. It is truly remarkable to behold. It is difficult to grasp in generalities, so perhaps it would be best just to give a single example and then you can imagine this multiplied by thousands across the country. Let me give you one example from Massachusetts.
I spent almost 15 years of my life in Massachusetts. I was a professor at Gordon-Conwell and I had the privilege of serving as interim pastor for five different churches between 1999-2009. These wonderful congregations were some of the most vibrant and Christ centered people I have ever met (Grace Chapel, West Congregational Church, Hope Community Church, Osterville Baptist, 1st Congregational Church of Ossipee). These are all different kinds of churches, but they all are thriving right in the midst of the tough spiritual climate of New England. However, right across town—or right around the corner—of each of these churches there are churches which are dying. One example was a church in Watertown, Massachusetts. It was a beautiful historic brick church which had served the community for a hundred years. But in recent years, the church had dwindled in numbers and the church was finally faced with closing its doors. The economic vultures were soon circling the facility, wanting to purchase the property and turn it into condominiums. However, the church decided they didn’t want to sell the church to a business and make it “redundant.” As a small circle of a few remaining Christians, they only had one final act and they wanted to make sure it was an expression of their faith in the gospel. They turned to Grace Chapel, a vibrant church in Lexington, Massachusetts. They offered the entire facility, assets and land to Grace Chapel for $1. Grace Chapel purchased the facility and this past Easter they had 500 people in worship there. I thank God for those Christians who had the courage to sell their church for $1. I also thank God for those Christians who knew what to do when they got it.