In the fall of 1990, I moved to Joplin Missouri to attend Ozark Christian College. Just a few short minutes away in the city of Carthage there was a new attraction that had opened to the public called “The Precious Moments Chapel.” Since I was new to the area, I went over to see this chapel that was painted inside with murals by Samuel Butcher. My first trip included a tour that lasted over an hour with detailed descriptions and interesting facts. The site quickly became a place that everyone must visit when they were in the area. By my second year of college, they had added new buildings, expanded the parking lot and saw thousands of visitors. I took every person family member that visited me out to show them the chapel.
As my visits increased, there were noticeable changes at the chapel. The parking lot was expanded, and you could expect a long walk and often long waits for anything. The tours were dropped to 30 minutes or less, and people were moved quickly from place to place. I cannot tell you how many times I have visited with family and friends to see the chapel with its new paintings and peaceful setting. Then in 1996 I left the area and had not returned.
Then last week my wife and I were able to take two days away together. Without much time for travel or much extra money to spend I suggested we make a return visit to our college days including a stop by The Precious Moments Chapel. When we arrived, the parking lot was nearly empty. Granted, it was a Monday in the middle of October, but that had never slowed the crowds in the nineties. We walk through the facility where we noticed empty buildings, closed shops, and very few workers. There were three people in the gift shop, one in the chapel and one guy mowing. It was a shell of the place we had adored 20 years ago.
Always thinking about the Church and the Lord’s work I made a couple of mental notes for the local Church to consider.
1. Fads Come and Go Quickly. The Church needs to be careful with the passing interests of the time. Precious Moments figurines were a huge hit, but with recessions and the internet, things changed. It reminded me of Church bus ministries that flourished and then died, along with a host of other things that worked at one point in history. A Church walks this fine line of holding onto an ancient message while using modern methods. We must be wise in evaluating our approach to ministry and not keep offering programs that no longer work.
2. Lack of Leadership. The tour told us that the last time Mr. Butcher added anything new to the chapel was in 2009. He now lives in the Philippines and rarely visits. It seems he has no interest in what happens in Carthage any longer and it shows. Every thriving organization needs strong leaders who believe in what they are doing.
3. Lost Passion. The woman who gave us our tour could care less about her job. When she asked us if we wanted to hear the tour and we responded with a yes, she was clearly disappointed. She then proceeded to gives us less than 15 minutes of poorly rehearsed information that she had no enthusiasm to share. If you have no fire for the work of the Lord through the local Church, it is clear to everyone who knows you.
4. Survival Mode. It appeared that no one wants to shut down the chapel, so their solution is to do the bare minimum. They have very few staff which I am sure make near minimum wage. They have closed buildings and have “off seasons” when other areas are closed. I actually drove across the road to the parking lot they added in the nineties. It had limbs on it with leaves and untrimmed grass. I know Churches exactly like this in their approach. They do just enough to keep the doors open and wonder why no one comes to visit anymore.
My wife and I enjoyed our time at the Chapel. We took selfies and held hands. Together we walked down memory lane and marveled at what used to be a great attraction. I learned a little that day too. The Church must always be careful to serve God in the present and not survive on fond memories of the past. If we do, one day we will have eight people in attendance and wonder what happened.