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How Many Generations Does It Take for a Church to Die?

July 25, 2011

Justin Taylor has highlighted some of Sean Lucas‘s reflections on his research about the history of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi:

As part of the research work that I’ve been doing, I’ve tracked down various churches that are mentioned in biographical sketches or represented in various events. Just today, for example, I tried to find information about Point Breeze Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh (where Harold Ockenga ministered); Central Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga (where Wilbur Cousar pastored); United Presbyterian Church in Wheeling, WV (where John Reed Miller served for a time) and Central Presbyterian Church in Jackson (where R. E. Hough pastored). What do these congregations have in common? They were all thriving, large, significant churches, pastored by conservative, talented men: and they no longer exist today.

Now, the reasons why these churches no longer exist are as various as the congregations themselves. Still, as late as the 1950s, they all were thriving congregations; and if congregational death can happen to these congregations, it can happen to my congregation and to yours.

You can read the rest of Lucas’s piece here.

This reminds me a similar observation by D.A. Carson, that a church is never more than three generations from losing the gospel: one generation to believe it and proclaim it, a second generation to assume it, and a third generation to lose it. (Taylor has added some reflections along these lines as well, including a link to some notes by Carson.)

And so it is why we must never assume the gospel, but always proclaim it, always believe it, and actively appropriate it into our daily lives. For the gospel of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection on behalf of sinners is and always will be that which is of “first importance” for the church (1 Cor. 15:3).

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