It felt like a bad movie. We stepped quietly through room after deserted room.

Children’s decorations hung from the ceilings. Lonely toys sat motionless in the corners.

Small wooden kids’ chairs lined up in front of the old upright piano. Waiting. Waiting for the children to return to sing those old gospel songs.

As we entered the preschool room, someone said, “They haven’t seen kids in here for 11 years.”

For this church it’s been a slow decline from the glory years. Not only for the children and teenagers. Sunday worship attendance in the grand old sanctuary has dwindled too. Church leaders have gradually walled off the worship space, condensing the room to accommodate the shrinking congregation.

What happened here? How did this church—and thousands more like it—get here? What is the basic root cause for their decline?

I wonder, at some point, did someone here suggest a bold new direction to try? And then did other voices vigorously defend the status quo, in hopes the good old days would return if they just stay the course?

In order to prevent this empty scene from repeating in church after church, we need a clear diagnosis of the root causes.

As we ended the tour I gazed at the classic stained glass windows and wondered. If this were actually a movie set, how would I title the movie? “Night at the Museum of the American Church”? Or “Trip to the Future of the American Church”?

What do you think? What do you think God thinks?