*This post was taken from Dr. Harrell’s website and is used by permission.
Note: I am well aware that others have recognized the problem addressed by this essay and have written about it. But, this article is drawn from personal observations over the past three years and beyond as I have preached in many of the kind of churches which are the subject of this piece. It is my hope that, coming from personal experience and observation, it will add a sense of urgency as we deal with the effects discussed.
Without trying to sound intellectual, I enjoy reading about quantum theory or quantum physics. It is very instructive and highly interesting. There is a spiritual side to all of this information which helps one better understand the omniscience and omnipresence of God as well as the other attributes we know about Him. One of the things one discovers when reading this kind of material is how intricately God has formed the universe even down to the super small components of atoms. The deeper we delve into this world the more we find that Someone had to design it. We know that Someone is God. There is no way that all we discover in the super small world of quantum physics could have just happened. It had to be intricately designed.
There are three laws of thermodynamics. Without lengthening this article by discussing all three laws, I want to focus on the second law of thermodynamics. This law is called the law of entropy. Entropy means, a process of degradation or running down or trend to disorder. This world and all that is in it will not last forever in its present state. This is due to entropy. God is going to change everything one day in order for it to last forever. The new heavens and the new earth will not be subject to entropy therefore it will be equipped to last forever. Entropy is not only a physical law. It can be seen in action in personal dynamics and human organizations which tend to “have their day” and then decline sometimes even into oblivion. So, personal relations are also subject to the law of entropy. Note the number of civic organizations that were once so big and powerful and in a few years they decline to the point of ineffectiveness. The same is true of churches. It has been observable that some very large and great churches have “had their day” and are now only a shadow of what they once were with every indicator diminishing. For the sake of this article, I want to focus on the spiritual organism we call the church and the larger “church” we call the Southern Baptist Convention made up, of course, by the state conventions and our entities.
It has long been noted that the majority of the churches in the SBC are not the larger ones which always get all the attention. The SBC is primarily made up of small churches with fewer than one hundred in attendance on Sunday. In fact, such churches make up approximately half of our forty-four thousand churches.
For the past three years I have had the privilege of preaching in a variety of churches made up of small and larger congregations. During this time I have been evaluating what was in store for the SBC if the law of entropy has its way. I have discovered something that our convention needs to recognize and make plans for if it is to remain effective in its scope and ministries. These smaller, mostly rural churches are declining rapidly due to two primary things. First, the society in which they once thrived is no longer primarily an agricultural society. In earlier days, these churches were located in certain areas of the rural setting for the convenience of the farmers in the area. The farm families in those days were large. The parents needed large families to help run the farm and harvest the crops. Therefore, the rural churches were populated in larger numbers as the parents brought their large families to church. These young people were the future of the church and the rural churches remained strong as they came to worship with the family. As the society shifted from an agricultural one to a more urban influence, those young people left the farm, went to college and prepared for a life in an urban setting which was anything but agricultural. In addition, the farm family became smaller because of the invention of farm machinery which made the larger family unnecessary for the operation of the agricultural process. This left the small rural church with a declining participation which grew smaller as the society shifted more and more away from agriculture and large rural families. As I have observed these churches, I have noticed that there are very few people in attendance which are younger than forty-five. They are there but their numbers are small. The majority of the people present are sixty-five and older. I’ve seen more grey and blue hair in the last three years than I ever imagined I would. If these churches are not inspired to reach out to others and witness to them, then they will continue to decline. As the congregation continues to age, there is less and less magnetic enthusiasm which is brought to a church with the energy of younger people. But, if I were a younger person, I would not find it encouraging to attend most of these churches because they are dead as a door nail. The energy has been consumed with the living of life. They have settled down into a dry, repetitive form of worship which leaves one unfulfilled and yearning for something more.