A couple of weeks ago the brethren in San Pedro de Macoris put us up in the Hotel Macorix. It's an imposing structure and the entrance is what you would expect of a grand hotel--a wide lobby with a marble floor, massive dark wood reception counter, 3-4 bellboys standing around. It opens up on to the olympic size swimming pool and on the other side a view of the ocean.
As you continue inside you see the grand staircase with the same dark wood bannister, but there is also an elevator just beyond that. Our room was nicely furnished with rattan furniture; 2 beds, small table and 2 chairs and sliding glass doors that overlook the Malecon and the sea. But don't look too closely now: the sliding glass doors don't meet the wall on either side and the only light is a small lamp that won't work. The bathroom floor had a stash of hair in one corner, the counter top has cigarette burns, the door has lost most of its stain. One the ceiling tiles is missing and the one next to it is not on the grids, etc. This is a hotel that has been, but is no longer in vogue. The factories are closed now and the new, all-inclusive resorts are 30-40 miles down the road.
This hotel reminded me of the church in Sardis--"you have a name that you live, but are dead". Haven't you been in some of those church buildings? The facade is impressive, usually along classical lines, with 5-10 steps up to the grand entrance. As you enter the lobby you can see the plush carpet in the auditorium as well as the many pews. As the brethre begin to arrive it becomes apparent that this church is not what it used to be--less than half of the pews are used, there are few younger people and even less children. There was a time when the building was full and bustling--children running, babies crying, brethren visiting, but now it is quiet. You don't need the gift of prophecy to see where this church is heading. It may have been very active in years gone by and may still be supporting a number of preachers, but it is well down the road to disappearance.
There is another type of church that seems to be alive, but is really dead. This one may not be so imposing and at first glance you don't realize that it's dead or dying. They probably began as a small group, perhaps having to leave another congregation when they left God's plan. Little by little they have built up, always standing for the truth and have grown large enough to have an adequate bulding, support a preacher, etc. There is lots of activity but it produces little spiritual growth. Maybe the real emphasis is on social activities, maybe the Bible classes tend toward "intellectualism"--learning just for learning's sake, or maybe they're just going through the motions. It may take awhile, but eventually you realize they are just as dead as the more obvious ones.
Brethren, it is easy to become content and quit. The purpose of Bible study is to learn, then make application to our lives. Eph. 4 says the purpose of the spiritual gifts was to equip brethren for the work of service. If that purpose is not accomplished a church is somewhere along the road to death--sooner or later it must die.