The Frankfort Church (Clinton County, Indiana), we were sent to right out of seminary was a big church — in size if not attendance. It was a stone church constructed in the early 50s if I remember correctly. There was a very large fellowship hall with a stage, on the basement level. It had a good kitchen there. A half level up from there were a couple of classrooms and bathrooms that looked like they hadn’t been updated since the 50s. On the main level, a half a flight up from the ground level was a sanctuary that could probably hold 250 people with a choir loft front and center. There was no Narthex or “gathering room” which was always a problem. The folks there liked their sanctuary quiet. There was a large classroom, a small “library,” and a couple of offices. There were actually two more levels with some pretty big rooms and a balcony over the Sanctuary. It was big. But not fully utilized.
Now I knew that this was an older congregation. There’s nothing wrong with “older congregations.” Some can be very vital and have important ministries. I understand that. However, sometimes older congregations can become older for not very good reasons. First, the community around them can be dying with no new influx of jobs to attract younger folks. In a place such as that, the folks who grew up in the church suddenly look around and they realize that all of their kids (who WERE the future of the church) are gone. Secondly, a church, in the presence of kids in the community, can, over time, make the place unwelcoming to children. This congregation had both of those issues going on.
Well, a sign of trouble occurred shortly after we had gotten to Frankfort in 1994. I was that, young, bushy-tailed, wide-eyed, conceited pastor and I was very eager to be the bearer of exciting and new ministries. I noted that the church was located about 100 yards from a school — a school that saw children from the community go to it every day of the week. These were kids that passed by our great, big, underused church each day. So, I asked what types of ministries they had tried with the school over the years – VBS, Kid’s Club, tutoring, adopt a grandparent?
“What do you mean?” was the answer I got back. 50 years across the street from a school and they had never done a thing. Well, I said, it’s time to start something.
Too late. The school was getting closed the next year.
It was too late.
Sometimes, it can be too late for a ministry. Sometimes we can miss the boat.
It was easy…too easy…to blame persons in the church at the time. But, really, it’s not a matter of blame. It’s a matter of looking what you have, what you’ve done wrong, and going on in a new way. I wonder how many times I’ve missed the proverbial boat in ministry and it just became “too late” for a ministry of some sort or other.
Then again, maybe it’s more comfortable not to be made aware of all of the missed opportunities I’ve had. In some sense, ignorance really is bliss. It’s not helpful. But it’s bliss. It’s always painful to be confronted by our missed opportunities.