Things have been going well at Echo. I feel like we're in a much better place than we've every been. This church is growing up, and it's going to last. That's about all I can ask for. Still, I'm continually anxious to see what we're becoming. But there's always a fire to put out. Currently, it's the status of our rental facility. While the relationship with our lessor hasn't necessarily deteriorated, they are becoming less logical. We're almost left to wonder if we'll suddenly be forced to find a new facility. Being the Boy Scout that I was/am, always anticipating possible scenarios, I'm pushing for preparedness in case it happens. I've kept a list of alternate meeting sites for awhile and, recently, I've been going through the list—exploring other possible meeting spaces within our neighborhood.
I visited one such space last Sunday morning. It is an aging church in midst of our inner-city community with a pretty large facility. It's indicative of many churches in today's cities: they were a good size church in the 1940's and 1950's but they were unable to adjust to the cultural changes that accompanied urban renewal. As a result, many of its congregants fled to the suburbs and the church began to decline. Left behind was a group of locals (unable to sprawl) and church devotees—themselves no longer in the community, but harboring an obligation to the urban church. These churches are struggling to stay in business. And when the fire is finally extinguished they close their doors and the building is razed or becomes an Urban Outfitters.
What's interesting as that the base experience does not necessarily differ from a thriving congregation. As I walked in the church this morning, I was greeted warmly. You could tell that the people love their church, while wanted things to go better. The worship wasn't professional quality, but it was sincere. I was pleasantly surprised when one of the ladies performed a song that she had written herself. And the message the pastor preached was as passionate as those in churches I had seen at much larger congregations.
But there were twenty people in the pews—average age 68. In a few years, they'll shut the doors. It's a very typical story in the city, highlighting the importance of churches like Echo to engage these communities. These communities will last but the churches will not. So we need to continually focus on adding new churches to the landscape.
But in my discussion with this church, I was pleasantly surprised. Even though they're struggling financially, they've recognized that their building is an incredible asset. They are currently renting it out to five different organizations throughout the week. Not only have they sought the additional revenue, but they're renting to groups that are positively impacting the community. They admitted, "we might not be here much longer, but we're trying to do what we can now to make our community a better place while we can."
I'm always thankful for people who see the big picture. Nothing's going to last forever, so you have to think beyond yourself. It's the mindset I'm trying to think of when working with our young congregation. I'm sure we can build something that will last forty years, but I'd prefer something that could last for forty generations. For this vision to become a reality, we need to make sure we're wise enough to adapt to the changing culture around us.
It's a struggle, but the stakes are too high to ignore.