By John D. Pierce

ST.IGOne Sunday morning I exited a hotel elevator and walked toward the front desk. In the lobby I passed and greeted a young man in jeans with a guitar in one hand and box of donuts in the other.

I surmised that he was headed to a rented conference room to do church. Donuts, a Bible, a guitar and at least sufficient amplification make up the basic ingredients.

The white-steeple, red-brick sanctuary where I would offer some gospel proclamation at the 11 o’clock hour was not as full as it was once upon a time. And I was not surprised.

There’s a lot more competition now.

Not all were drawn to the hotel by donuts. Many of the businesses once shuttered on the Lord’s Day were buzzing as I drove by.

And a former outlet mall on the edge of town had a church name on the sign now — some cool, edgy combination of words like “CrossPoint” or “GraceLink” or “RealLife” or BaskinRobbins (wait, that’s not one them).

Perhaps it was “MoreDonuts” or “LotsLouder.”

The soccer and softballs fields of the local recreation league were filled with uniformed youngsters whose parents lined the edges in their folding chairs. I didn’t notice any looks of guilt on their faces.

The late philosophical catcher Yogi Berra was right: “You can observe a lot by watching.”

Sundays are very different than they were in my growing-up years. There is greater competition from within (other expressions of church) and from without (options other than church).

That not an excuse for churches to abandon their mission or for leadership to give less than their best, but a reason to revision what that mission might look like in such changing times.

It is also a needed acknowledgment that the glory years will not be repeated — even if we have two-week revivals, Tuesday night visitation and could revive the fourth person from the end in the gallery of pastor photos in the hallway.

The present and future of churches are and will be different than the past. At least that’s what I observed by watching one Sunday from the time I exited the hotel elevator in my suit and tie, and arrived at the church parking lot a few minutes later.


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