If you are afraid your church is dying, stop fixing blame and start taking responsibility.
First, the good news. The Church is the Body of Christ. It cannot die. Its head is the risen Christ, the King of all that is and will be. He takes his people one by one into eternal glory when they die, there to await [here language fails: how do you wait for anything when time is no more?] the day of the Lord, "when earth and heaven are one."
Second, it is neither good nor bad news that your local church can die, because it isn't news at all. Your church is a community of mortals; if they die and are not replaced, the church is dead in that place. The American rural Midwest is dotted with cemeteries bearing the names of local churches that are no longer there.
Some of these churches did not die, of course. The living people relocated but sensibly left the cemetery behind. That may be sad, but it is part of the natural order of earth and is usually okay--if the people were Christian in their attitudes and behavior during the crisis.
Now the bad news, and it is very bad. A local church can die from enemy action—sometimes from without, but I perceive from long experience that it is usually from within.
During the dying process, several of the church members become experts at naming and blaming the enemy inside and outside the church. They are usually shocked and hurt to learn that they are on the enemy list that other church members are making, when they have only the good of the church at heart!
Of course, it is inherent in expertise that experts do not agree. There is always another way to see it. In this respect a dying church resembles a criminal court in which both the prosecution and the defense present "expert" testimony arranged to prevail in argument. Instead of fighting the terminal disease that is the common enemy of the church, we end up fighting each other.
Even good religious people would rather fix blame than take responsibility; I know my own temptations in this respect. We are pious, self-assured, and confident enough to throw our weight around in defense of the tradition or the truth. We mean well. In my own case, I took to heart my daughter's words when she observed, in the midst of a church fooforaw, "I am sick and tired of people who mean well." Doing right always trumps meaning well.
Sometimes discerning unbelievers can see what is really driving us. The chief priests of the Jews were some of the best men in the world of their day, and Pontius Pilate was one of the worst; but when the chief priests brought Jesus before Pilate hoping for a death sentence, Pilate saw that these good men had no case. "Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate, knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him" (Mark 15:9-10). [Emphasis mine]
Envy killed Jesus? It sounds trivial, but why not? It's one of the seven deadly sins. All of them are killers if persisted in and unrepented; that's what deadly means. The deadly sins kill Christians and churches and threaten bystanders. You don't have to look for sociological or psychological reasons when one or more of the deadly is active in your midst. You cannot confess other people's sins, (which naming and blaming tries to do), but you must confess your own if the church is going to recover from its terminal state.
Here are the seven, in case you need reminding.
- pride, when acted out in self-justification and determination to get your own way because it is your way.
- envy, when you are dissatisfied with your place in the church and act out your dissatisfaction by subverting those who hold the place you want;
- gluttony, when your consumption consumes you, and you have no time, energy or will for anything else.
- lust, when your physical desire for another is loveless and selfish.
- anger, when directed at hurting and destroying yourself or others.
- greed, when your only goal is more for yourself.
- sloth, not being bothered.
Pogo has been quoted endlessly: "We have met the enemy, and he is us." If your church is dying, maybe it's your turn to quote him!