In the last week I had the pleasure of spending more than 24 hours driving on Interstate 70 between home and Kansas City. There’s not much to see, so in the rare event that something came up, it got our attention.
About an hour outside of St. Louis was the American Farm Heritage Museum. It had great visibility from the interstate and we could see a great collection of steam-powered tractors, the kind of things I would always pause to admire at the County Fair.
But as we drove on I got thinking about the viability of such a museum. I gave it not much more than a thoughtful “hmm” and kept going. We never thought about getting off at the exit and paying it a visit. I have nothing against this stuff, but it had no relevance for me or my family. There was no reason for us to go there.
I even started wondering if such a place was really needed or if it was merely for the benefit of those who already knew about antique tractors. Did school kids really go there wide-eyed dying to known more about equipment that was outdated half a century ago or if it was really for guys to go show off to each other and have a place to tinker and hang out.
It didn’t take long for me to connect those same questions to our local churches. At annual conference we learned that one in three churches in our Conference have not had a single new member “in years.” This means that for a third our churches people drive by and have the same response that I did to antique tractors.
I will tell you that I don’t know a thing about the Farm Heritage Museum. It may be the best museum of its kind in the free world. They have a great sign in the front and plenty of parking, convenient from the interstate and a pretty good web site.
But I still had no reason to go.
Expecting people to come to our churches simply because we are the church is an outdated notion. We need to go out into our communities and feed the hungry, heal the sick, comfort the afflicted. The Book of Matthew tells us over and over that Jesus built the church first by doing good works, then, when a crowd had gathered, he preached them.
We have the preaching part figured out, we need to do a better job gathering crowds. If not, we are no more than a place for our own members to tinker and hang out.