As you know, the United States federal government narrowly avoided a shutdown on Friday night. The impact would have been significant. In fact, nearly half of the 1.9 million civilian government employees could have been furloughed by today, complicating or delaying everything from Social Security filings to a class field trip to a national park.
This situation is not without precedent and larger budget battles still loom. But all the drama and dire talk has made me think:
What if the Church shut down? Or, more precisely, what if every church in America closed its doors? I know what you’re thinking. It’ll never happen! But what if it did?
What would be the impact?
Well, on one hand, it should be minimal since the Body of Christ is not made up of church buildings but of millions of individual believers. Christian-operated soup kitchens would still serve food, clothing banks would outfit those in need, the Gospel would still be shared, Christian hospitals would still care for patients and followers of Jesus would continue to love their neighbors.
At the same time, everything would be different. That’s because the Christian Church, as an organized institution, and our pastors and clergy, serve a critically vital role in our society (not to mention God’s plan for the propagation of the Gospel and the building up of believers).
The sheer numbers are staggering. There are more than 300,000 Christian churches in the United States. Nearly 146 million people are affiliated with one of the 25 largest Christian denominations.
What about Christian clergy? There are more than 600,000 ministers in America – and that doesn’t even count those affiliated with non-denominational churches.
Should every Christian church shut its doors, there would be a lot of ministers looking for work – and over a hundred million people without a church to attend this coming weekend. But that’s not even the worst of it.
For Christians, the institutional church provides immense benefit. From serving as a forum for Christian education to preaching the Word, facilitating fellowship and ministering to the hurting, the full impact of the Church is immensely complex if not truly quantifiable. What we do know, however, is that the Christian Church does more collective good than any other single institution. Christians give away billions of dollars through their respective churches, a good portion of which is redistributed into the community and around the world to meet needs in Jesus’ name.
Even as we work to spread the Gospel, we need not worry about the American Church’s demise. The government may shut down on occasion, but the Church will not. That’s because “The true Church can never fail,” wrote T.S. Eliot, “for it is based upon the Rock.”