August 6, 2119—Kansas City, MO. The last brick and mortar church building in the city closed today. The Rev. Joe Schmoe signed the papers to complete the sale of the once strong congregation. The building will be razed and an electric charging station for autonomous vehicles will be built in its place. The handful of members left will meet in one of the parishioner’s homes.
A century ago, brick and mortar church buildings were on nearly every street in the city. But over the last several decades church buildings like the obsolete automobile gas stations and department stores have left the landscape of our cities. Sociologists and historians have debated on the exact cause of the death of the brick and mortar church building in the 21stcentury. There are plenty of factors:
Those religiously bent historians might point to things like a division over the proper response to the LBGTQ community, the embracing of partisan politics, the church’s silence in the face of societal injustices, little empathy for the hurting and lonely or the moral failure of prominent leaders. But it seems that all of these are examples of the problems and not the core issue. A simple reading of the Gospels show how the 21st century church had gotten away from the teachings of Jesus and strayed from their core mission to make disciples. A church without a mission is not a church but a social club, and social clubs eventually lose their appeal and die within a generation or two.
Plenty of people fed up with the perceived hypocritical church model stopped attending altogether. The people that did show up to the brick and mortar buildings in the mid 21st century brought with them a social media driven world view shaped by their favorite political pundits, sports heroes and celebrity wannabes. With them came a narcissistic mindset that the world, church and even Jesus revolved around them. They would come to church when they had nothing better going on and frequently they had something better going on. They weren’t mad at Jesus. They just ignored him or tired of his counter-cultural words.
The few people who remained were less inclined to tithe as there was a notable difference in loyalty to the church from the members who preceded them. With less money and less people, many congregations simply could not afford their buildings. The closures were as much for economic reasons as they were for theological and societal ones.
You can still find Christians today. They meet in homes and coffee shops. They seem to be more committed to each other than those who called themselves Christian from a century ago. While smaller in raw numbers, it seems these Christians are faithful to the cause of Christ. Some people may look at the lack of buildings as a sign of decline, maybe it is an example of the old adage: Addition by subtraction. By subtracting the brick and mortar buildings, denominationalism, and theological weeds that had grown in the way, this new generation of believers seems to be more influenced by the mission and message of Jesus. This growing phenomenon explains why many of the faithful have been heard saying, “The church isn’t dead. It’s just not warehoused in a brick and mortar building any longer.”