9/11 & the Church

In late 1999, I attended a church leadership conference in Louisville. One of the seminars I sat through talked about speculation of the church’s future role in our culture. Most of it was not very memorable, but one statement stuck out in my mind – so much so that I remember it to this day. The speaker essentially said that futurists (visionary-type people who look ahead and try to discern where the church should be going) believe that our society is heading towards a hinge (it’s like a fork in the road, but I definitely remember him saying “hinge”) where the events over the next few decades will shape the course of how history unfolds over the next few centuries. Essentially, things that are being done now in American society and around the world will have long-term impact for many many years to come. It’s up to the church to stand at that hinge and begin to act as salt, because the impact we make now will have far-reaching implications. Failure to make that impact could cause the church to lose any relevance to shaping the culture for a very long time. In other words, we have to start getting our act together!

So what happened on 9/11? People seemed to flock to houses of worship that night. I heard that people lined up down the block at the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Of course, they were very close to Ground Zero. Our worship center was full at Oaklandon that night, too. I’d imagine most churches were packed.

People talked of revival. That 9/11 was going to be a turning point in American Christian practice and that lives were going to be changed as a result of these unspeakable acts. What people intended for evil, God was going to use for good. Churches were expecting record attendance levels, rivaling those of Easter Sundays (the highest attended day of the year…followed by Mother’s Day). We were at the hinge and we were stepping up as we were called to do.

Then that Sunday came. Many churches experienced an increase in attendance, but not the record-breaking levels that were expected. And the numbers dwindled during the weeks after that.

What happened?

Matt Redmond said that he was struck by how little of our worship vocabulary and songs had anything to do with tragedy. That’s one of the things that led him to write Blessed be Your Name.

I remember thinking I needed to have all of the answers when it probably would have been better to say, “I have no idea why God allows horrible things like this to happen.” Faith doesn’t require having all the answers. It means you rely on the One who does, though.

If we truly believe that we serve a God who is truly our Comfort, Strength, and the Source of all life, to whom we can run when the world is literally falling down around us, why couldn’t we find tangible ways to communicate and show this to a world that desperately needed to see that security. Have we learned our lesson from five years ago? Could we better address people’s fears and hurts in the midst of a tragedy like 9/11? I certainly hope so.

I listen to talk radio every once in a while (except Glenn Beck, who I listen to as often as possible – but that’s because he’s a sick twisted freak!). There have been many callers who have said “I started listening to you after September 11.” I haven’t heard anyone say they became active church members as a result of 9/11. Am I just not listening close enough?

I had originally thought that maybe I wasn’t. New churches are opening every weekend. Countless lives are being touched with the Gospel by both established churches and new church works. Of course, many churches are closing their doors forever, too. If I remember correctly, there are still more churches closing their doors for the last time than opening their doors for the first time. There’s still some kind of negative growth there, isn’t there? Then I read Prof. Mattingly’s Get Religion post and thought that maybe I’m not as far off as I hoped I was.

Did we miss the boat? Was there a better way we could have addressed the tragedy five years ago?

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Howdy. I'm Matt Todd. My wife and I have four kids and a dog,. I'm passionate about orphan care. I'm a die-hard fan of the Evansville Aces, the Indiana Hoosiers, and Star Wars. I'm trying to live life by the Todd family motto: "It behooves us to live!"

One Reply to “9/11 & the Church”

  1. grief in times of tragedy

    When someone we love dies, there is always a period of shock that follows. I believe that we as a nation were deeply impacted by the loss of those 3000 lives that day. The church, broadly speaking, tends to operate as an organization – and I wondered, while reading your post – if our lack of response at that time was simply because due to the massive blow we as a nation faced, that the body, the organization, simply wasn’t mobilized or prepared to “be there” in a way that would lead other souls into our church walls permanently. The evening of 9-11 seemed to be a time when our local bodies came together, more as a family. Sure, we accepted those “newbies” into our flock, but more than anything, we needed comfort from our church family – and that includes those that were staff of those churches. One of the neatest things for me to experience in a church is true vulnerability – and I think the fact that some churches simply didn’t know what more to do than to offer an open sanctuary those next few days for serious prayer shows an amazing vulnerability. We don’t always have all the answers – even those “in charge.” We are so programmed now-a-days in our church doings that some, I’m sure, tried to implement strategies for retention, but sometimes, I think the best thing, and the thing most needed, was for the body of believers to realize that we are NOT ALONE – we came together after 9-11 as a powerful supportive presence in one another’s lives.

    However, I do agree with you that we should be ready at every opportunity. As you spoke of the “ball we might have missed” on 9-11, I couldn’t help but think of how we as a church did come together for the “outsiders” and help with the Hurricane Katrina devastation. Even the 4 smaller hurricanes in Florida, the year before, were an excellent chance for our family to witness “Jesus with feet” in our local church bodies. People stepped up to the plate. Showers, meals, gas, cars, housing, etc…were offered up to those in need without hesitation. Also, the way we reached out to the Asian countries after the tsunami leads me to believe that bit by bit, America is changing. The Christians might be “gaining a leg up” by showing our compassion in true living color.

    Although I certainly don’t hope for another major, tragic event to occur in America, I do feel that the American people, especially the Believers – have learned that we need to respond in tangible ways. The church is waking up to our responsibility – now we just have to continue to keep that passion alive.

    SM in OK

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