As I was walking in the local mall today, I noticed that a rather large clothing retailer had closed their store there. As I thought about it, I remembered that the local newspaper had reported that this particular business had relocated to another (newer) shopping area in our community. They are not out of business, but they have moved to attract a different (perhaps larger) clientele. They are adapting to the times.
Nothing lasts forever. We talk a great deal about the future of the local church. Some congregations prosper in their present locations, but others relocate to "greener pastures." Some may merge with other congregations, some transition into ministry with a different group of people, some change their style of worship, and seem even choose to close their doors. The congregation that nurtured me as a youngster eventually sold the facilities to an ethnic church and merged with another congregation; the resulting congregation has prospered.
I have been reading The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier by Tony Jones. I will post some specific comments about the book another time, but I was struck by the fact that many of the expressions of the so-called "emergent church" that the author describes live very tenuous lives. Many are in urban settings, often meeting in homes or in churches that have been abandoned by mainstream denominations. Their participants are often young, mobile, and still forming their faith commitments. I do not question that these are valid expressions of the body of Christ, but I do wonder how many of them will survive for a decade or more.
What difference does it make? The key lesson for me as a believer is that local congregations and emerging faith communities may survive or they may not, but the Church--catholic (universal) and eternal--will continue. The Church goes on. The way it is structured may change; the location may change; the liturgy may change. It may not look exactly like what we have experienced, but the Church will survive.
Our role is to be part of the Church and contribute to its ongoing ministry. The way we live that out is negotiable; the call to be do it is not negotiable.