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.
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?