Missional Bricks and Mortar
Can a church be truly missional and own a building?

A few years ago churches that were serious about their work were "purpose-driven." Today those same churches might call themselves "missional." The upcoming winter issue of Leadership will ask what exactly it means to be missional. David Fitch is a regular contributor to Out of Ur, pastor of Life on the Vine, a missional community in Long Grove, Illinois, and the author of The Great Giveaway. In this post Fitch asks if owning a building is contrary to missional church values.

Is buying a building always contra being missional? Upon first instinct, the answer would be yes. Certainly missional gatherings would hesitate to invest in a traditional church building. But are there times when inhabiting a building might itself be incarnational according to missional logic?

One positive thing about the end of modernity is that truth cannot be held captive by the rational, the strictly representational, or the logocentric. It must be embodied. So we who live in these times naturally resist any attempts to strip truth of its embodiment. Missional living, we say, must be incarnational.

But if truth is to be embodied, if we are not going to be limited to only words, then we must embody ourselves as a physical presence in the community. This might include inhabiting a building.

I am sure many, perhaps the majority, of missional communities will gravitate towards meeting in homes. But if embodiment in a community requires this community to see us, watch our way of life, see they way we welcome and engage the hurting, recognize God in our architecture, our meals, our artwork and worship, then there might be times when we should take residence in a place that is visible to the community. I know this goes against all missional thinking, so I am just asking, at what point does a building become incarnational?

I understand the resistance of missional churches to own buildings. They are cumbersome, require resourses, and often push the church into an attractional mentality as opposed to a missional/incarnational one where the church is dispersed into the world. This is all good. But I argue that there are times and places (not all times and all places) where buildings, sanctuaries, and physical architecture might be the very expression of such an incarnational community. In other words, part of incarnation might be the very brick and mortar of the sacred space we gather in. A building could exemplify and point all who would see it toward the reality of God.

There might be therefore, a stage in the development of some missional communities when a building makes sense. Some of our best examples of missional communities have made investments in buildings (like Solomon's Porch and Jacob's Well). In order to be missional we might need buildings, particularly buildings that resist the impression that Christ is another thing for distribution at a Walmart. Not a big box church, but a building where artists render the theology of our life together upon its space. We might need a building to feed the poor, to give sanctuary to the victimized. We might need a physical space that wipes the blank stare off modern people's eyes to see a reoriented world under the Lordship of Christ.

December 05, 2006

Displaying 1–2 of 2 comments

J.W.

December 06, 2006  8:07pm

There are plenty of places already available for corporate worship,even in the traditional sense What is needed for the church to truly become missional is for it to go into the world, and atrractional churches, even when they are evangelistic, by their very nature limit a congregation's ability to efficiently carry out that mission. It's a shame that the church as a whole can't work together, utilize the existing buildings more efficiently, and team together as one for missional outreach. Doing so would pool resources, both financial, as well as collective skills and talents necessary for successful missions.

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gibby

December 05, 2006  2:26pm

It's not the building that is the obstacle, but the use of the building. Wouldn't it be best to have a building that is used on a dialy basis for connecting with the community? Or for that matter used by the community to create a greater community. I'm one who has concern for the large buildings erected by church bodies only so they can fit more people into their congregation. When we look at the American church culture we've created it is antiquated compared to the direction the world is taking. Unfortunately it is not even close to being counter-culture. I believe it is for this reason that house, or simple churches are becoming popular. They are effective as long as they do not become the mini-me of the larger body. This is why we have the emerging and organic church movement happening. Some say people want things to be simple, but I see it differently. For decades the Church has called on God to bring revivial, but my sense is that God wants transformation. Out of that transformation will come revival, or maybe better an awakening. Chad is correct in stating that "buildings are hardly the greatest obstacle we face in following Jesus." Yet, the building is indicative of the institutional church culture we've created and of the way our Christian leaders think. When will the paradigm shift?

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