Should the Church Follow Its Members?

Every large city is faced with the problem created by population shifts during the past decade. The more prosperous are fleeing to the suburbs. leaving the older sections to the economically and socially depressed classes. Huge concentrations of negroes and Puerto Ricans are, found where once the native-born lived.

Especially the Protestant churches are involved in this shift. Throughout the years they have too much catered to certain segments of the community. Hence when their members move out, sometimes relocating at great distance from the church building, the question of relocation becomes a pressing one. Should their properties be sold and the income be invested in a new edifice far away? In St. Louis, for example, dozens of congregations belonging to the historic Protestant denominations have chosen this way out. Only a few have insisted on remaining and reorientating themselves to meet the challenge of a new community_ Those who have chosen this harder way find themselves faced with financial burdens. No longer can the budget be easily met by the shrinking membership. Nor do such churches find it a simple matter to secure pastoral leadership. Most ministers, seemingly, like to live in the suburbs, too. Only occasionally do sister congregations extend a helping hand, as a church, intent on staying where God in his providence has placed it, finds its burdens almost too heavy to bear.

Not a few Reformed and Christian Reformed have faced or are facing today this vexing problem. Full well do the members realize that the decision which they take will be a major one. Usually the congregation decides to sell, often at great financial loss, and move out.

The question must be asked in all seriousness, whether this is right in the light of the Biblical mandate to preach the gospel to every creature. Involved is also the matter of sound stewardship. Is it justified to sell these properties at a loss and invest much more money simply to keep a congregation intact? That no church, especially when its membership is dwindling alarmingly because of the flight to suburbia, will be financially strong enough to undertake a vigorous evangelistic program alone ought to be self-evident. But haven’t sister-churches already in the suburbs who arc directly profiting from the population shift a responsibility here? We may well ask whether we are interested only in those who have always been members of Our churches. Is God perhaps laying mission opportunities in our lap, which we can throwaway only by being disobedient and callous to the heavenly vision?


Many people seem to adopt the latest fashions without a second thought. This affects not only the clothes we wear but also the churches which we build. Often architects, also those engaged by Reformed congregations, will try to persuade a building committee of the beauty of a divided channel.

In a recent issue the Southern Presbyterian Journal quotes from an article on “The Bane of Liturgy” which deserves the attention of those who plan to remodel or build a church edifice.

“The divided chancel is not the true symbol of Protestant Christianity. It strikes at the root of the relation of sacrament and sermon. To be a Protestant means to be a proclaimer of one’s faith. The Protestant is essentially a preacher; he is an evangelical, seeking, to convert and confirm. Now to be sure, wo may preach by symbol as well as by voice, but the preached word may never be minimized. And that is just what the divided chancel does. It pushes the pulpit to one side and sets the Communion table in the center with its symbolic reminder of the death of Christ. This inevitably leads to sacramentalism. The true Protestant symbolism is the unified chancel, where the pulpit stands in the center with the Communion table also in the center and in front of it, so that the preached word comes out over the symbol of the Word that has been offered up.”

Before drastic changes are made for the sake of being in style or making the church more beautiful by the passing standards of the day, we ought to rethink our Biblical positions. Such changes aren’t as harmless as we might think. And by all means we should not allow architects to tell us what is right and best for a Reformed church.




East German)” now for a decade and a haH under Communist domination, has traditionally been a stronghold of Lutheranism. Here a much larger proportion of the population is Protestant than in the West German republic. But the church has fallen upon evil days. The people in that land are being dechristianized at an alarming rate.

For several years the Communists have deliberately gone into competition with the church to gain the youth. a ere open persecution has made way for insidious propaganda. Youth dedication ceremonies, an atheistic and state-designed substitution for church confirmation, have become exceedingly popular. In recent years no less than 700,000 young men and women have taken part. According to reports, this spring no less than 130,000—88% of those whose age makes it possible for them to receive this induction in a nation-wide youth organizational program will thus be weaned away from the Christian faith and the church. Instead of being baptized, infants and little children are incorporated by “name giving” ceremonies. These are so popular that today it is almost impossible to find individuals who will stand up as sponsors or god-parents at Christian baptism.

By its relentless pressures Communism is driving the church into a comer. Undoubtedly by these means the churches are being purified of many nominal and indifferent members. But at the same time the influence of the church is severely weakened and restricted. Under a totalitarian regime, no matter what protestations it may make concerning the granting of religious freedom, there remains little room for Christ and his message of redeeming grace. If no change comes, the church will be driven under ground.


The missionary movement is still in full swing, especially in the churches of the highly-favored lands of United States and Canada.

Two thirds of all Protestant foreign missionaries are recruited from these two nations. During the past decade this task force for the spreading of the Christian faith has increased by 81$. During 1959, the latest year for which figures are available, some $163,680,468 was contributed for foreign missions by the United States churches alone.

These figures sound encouraging, until we evaluate them more carefully. This amount represents an average contribution per communicant member of exactly $2.75 for the year. Reading this, we wondered whether the situation was different in the Christian Reformed Church. To be sure, it was higher—about $7.00 per communicant member, since the fields among the American Indians cannot properly be considered foreign. This isn’t much in the light of what we spend for expendable luxuries. Dare you compare your gifts for sending the gospel in obedience to the Savior to the ends of earth with what you spent during the year for bowling, basketball games, tobacco, cosmetics…or even that new hat you likely didn’t need? We certainly haven’t even gotten out of the kindergarten in learning the great lessons of the Savior in sacrificial giving.


That there is a saturation point for congregational growth cannot be legitimately denied. Congregations which are too large miss many of the wonderful blessings of active fellowship in Christ. Usually when the church building is overcrowded, congregations as well as consistories begin to resent additional members. As a result the evangelistic impact in the community will be weakened. In many churches, possibly, it has never even been felt.

Undoubtedly one reason why the smaller sects have proliferated during the past two or three decades must be attributed to their strategy. They do not hesitate to open chapels, build churches, and establish new congregations. During 1960 the Assemblies of God opened 204 congregations, bringing the total for the past five years to 1,179.

Much of this is made possible by their conception of the church and congregational life. The members do not insist on lavish structures. They seldom feel the need for expensive pipe organs. The clergy is not highly trained and surely not highly paid. But it is plain that they have gained foothold in nearly every city of the land and many of the expanding suburbs. Their members do not hesitate to witness, seeking to bring in both old and young. Their small churches, averaging about 50 communicant members each, apparently are far more active than many of our churches five and ten times as large. And they do seem to be successful in bringing people into contact with the Christian faith, even though their buildings are extremely simple and even shabby by our standards.

By comparison we aren’t doing so well. In spite of a record-breaking increase in membership during the past five years (39,967 since 1955), we have managed to organize only 75 new congregations. In most places our Church buildings are filled to overflowing with worshippers. Yet we hesitate to organize new churches, even when a sizable group lives far from the church and finds it difficult to attend oftener than once per Sunday. We might do well to remember that God doesn’t demand expensive buildings. But he does ask for sacrificial giving accompanied with a fervent desire to witness to the glorious gospel of his grace in Christ Jesus our Lord. Distasteful as this will be for many who travel past many churches to attend where parents and friends of the same social set go, we would do well to give some serious attention to the matter of boundaries between our congregations. Then we could together as churches plan our strategy to gain a foothold in many communities where there is no Calvinistic church. Maybe if some of our church buildings were less crowded on Sunday morning, we might feel the urge to bring others in from the highways and byways. A shake-up along these lines would help much more than hurt us in being. what we should be—the church of the Lord Jesus in a very definitely defined .community with a mission to those who live right there.