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As 2016 draws to a close, we find ourselves poised “between memory and hope.” Winston Churchill said, “The farther backward you can look, the further forward you are likely to see.” The faith community of Poplar Tent Presbyterian Church in Concord, North Carolina, has gathered each Sunday for over 265 years. Let me repeat that: two-hundred and sixty-five years! This is no small feat, especially when you consider other institutions that have come and gone through the history of our community. There are other churches here who share a similar heritage of being a watchtower which casts a shadow on the lives of those who pass the church.

While the task of being, a sentinel has not changed, here in Concord, as well as nationally, the shadow of the church has shrunk. Historical experience has shown that in the past, by its shear presence the church attracted people whenever the doors were opened, but that is no longer the reality.

William Barclay, a Church of Scotland minister, author, and professor, warns Christians of the great danger of “intellectual sloth.” He said, “The Christian must be a thinker or he fails in his task. And to be a Christian thinker is to be an adventurous thinker so long as life lasts. It is all too true that most of us have the same things conquer us year in and year out, that we are the victims of the same faults, the same character failures. We fail for the same reasons that, as year succeeds year, we are no further on.”

Dependent upon which study you read, in 1991, 21% of the U.S. population did not attend church, and today that statistic exceeds 35%. Reggie McNeal in his book, The Present Future, writes, “The world is profoundly different than it was in the middle of the last century.” He goes on to observe that, “The North American church having largely forsaken its missional covenant with God to be a part of Kingdom expansion, has substituted its own charter of church as a clubhouse where religious people hang out with other people who think, dress, behave, vote, and believe like them.” Concluding, “It remains that North American Christians think about Christianity in terms of its institutional expression—the church—as opposed to thinking about Christianity in terms of a movement.”

Whether you read Billy Graham, Reggie McNeal, John Maxwell, Philip Yancey or one of many others, you will hear their plea that if the world ever needed to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ it is today. The media has recently observed, intrigue with institutional religion is down, but interest in spirituality is up. The “non-church” culture is not turned off to Jesus, but they don’t associate Jesus with the church. Let’s not stand by while our churches become more akin to museums, which memorialize an institutionalized religion grumbling about the culture in which it finds itself. Let’s move beyond the walls, and find ways to connect people to Jesus.

Comforted by memories of our personal faith experiences, let us look expectantly to the future and be transformed like the many lives we read about in Scripture: the woman at the well, the blind man, the woman with the issue of blood, the leper, the demoniac, even the dead. “Our world today desperately hungers for hope, and yet uncounted people have almost given up. There is despair and hopelessness on every hand. Let us be faithful in proclaiming the hope that is in Jesus (Billy Graham, The Reason for My Hope).” The world needs us. Let’s find a way to tell them the story.

Happy New Year!