I know before I pen this blog posting that some people will misunderstand me. Risking that anyway, I’m going to speak my mind (and heart). I’m concerned for the church. Why? Because Sears is closing its last store in Chicago. On the edge of the Portage Park neighborhood, it’s all over. A liquidation sale will begin April 27. The Auto Center will close in mid-May. The location was perfect: the intersection of Milwaukee Avenue, Cicero, and Irving Park. But it’s all over. Though Sears has called Illinois home for more than 120 years, it’s all over for the last Sears store in the city of Chicago.
“What does that have to do with the church?” you may ask. “Everything” is my answer. Simply everything.
You see, it’s not that Millennials don’t need major appliances. They do. In fact, they’re reaching ages where they’re purchasing their first home. Demographic trends clearly indicate the growing sales of major appliances in America. But they’re not buying them at Sears.
Home Depot, yes. Lowe’s, yes. Best Buy, yes. Even J.C. Penney is bringing back major appliances to get in on the action!
Why not Sears? Because Sears has been deemed irrelevant. We need look no further than Kentucky Oaks Mall to see evidence of that. Big evidence. And how attractive is that colossal empty building, at the corner of Lone Oak Road and Bleich, now that Kmart has closed its doors? It’s all part of the demise of the Sears retail giant. It’s not that bricks-and-mortar stores can’t make it anymore, just not Sears.
Those aren’t the only “going out of business” signs in town. Churches are closing too. A large church structure within one mile of our own campus will hit the auction block on May 10. Congregants were there the Sunday after Easter. No more.
Please do not misunderstand me. The church is not an advertising scheme, or even a business. We do not adjust the “truth” with the winds of marketing trends or popular opinion. Christ’s gospel is not for sale.
But we better not be so foolish as to think that people won’t ever write us off as “irrelevant.”
I’d like to propose seven questions for your prayerful reflection. These speak for themselves, so I’ll be a man of few(er) words today. Perhaps these questions will spark some important conversations around our dinner tables.
- As a church, are we so enamored by our successful past that we assume a successful future?
- Are we humble enough to take an honest look at how our community sees us, and to learn some things (even some hard things) from their assessments?
- Are we happier to be united around the gospel than we are to be united with people who are just like us?
- Are we eager to change some things which are non-essential in order to advance those things which are essential?
- Are we willing to do whatever it takes to speak CHRIST in the language of a generation that is highly suspicious of all organized “religion”?
- Are we committed to the prize enough to take some bold leaps of faith, and to attempt some new and risky adventures in ministry?
- Are we ready to be real?
Many young adults assume that “religious” people are phony, fake, and hypocritical. Let’s not prove them right.
And one more thought: we can chase cultural relevance all day long, and never get there. What we really need is contextual relevance: the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to relate the good news of Jesus to the gaping holes in the empty and distracted hearts of our neighbors and friends. Let’s give it our best shot.
I am old enough to remember one of the highlights of my autumn every year of my childhood: the Sears Christmas Catalog! “The Wish Book” it was called. Who couldn’t sit around with that and
dream for hours? But, though my Sears memories are fond and familiar, Sears is in a death spiral. The chain that once dominated sales of refrigerators, ranges, washers, dryers … and even awesome toys (which none of us really needed) … nearly done.
Water down the truth? No way! Truth like never before. May God grant us the wisdom to show the world Christ’s light, and salt, and relevance. The Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus, is oh so very, very relevant.