I Was Wrong About Church Buildings
They can be outposts of mission, not just a drain on resources.

If you had asked me eight years ago what I thought about church buildings, I would have said, "Who needs a building? The early church didn't have buildings, and we don't need them either!" But I was wrong.

My anti-building phase was a reaction to having seen so much money spent on church facilities, often for non-essential, luxury items. I was also reacting to a philosophy of ministry that treated church buildings like Disneyland; a place consumers gather for entertainment. But these abuses had caused me to unfairly dismiss the potential blessing of buildings as well.

Consider the building occupied by Compassion International in Colorado Springs. It has a well-groomed lawn with sprinkler system, an attractive sign, and an expansive parking lot. It's a nice facility. But it's more than just a building—it is the headquarters and training center for a ministry that brings physical and spiritual nourishment to more than one million children in 25 countries. The Compassion building is used for a missional purpose, not simply as a place for Christians to gather and consume religious services.

When we planted our church in 2004, we needed a place to meet. We found a very traditional church building that had a sizable "fellowship hall" originally used only for donuts and coffee on Sundays. Wanting to use the building differently, we converted the fellowship hall into a public coffee lounge featuring music and art from the outside community. The Abbey, as it's now called, is open seven days a week and offers free internet access.

Just yesterday I was in The Abbey and saw about 20 people, not part of our congregation, studying and hanging out. (During finals week I counted 90 students packed into the place.) While there I talked to a brand new Christian who has been coming to our gatherings. He found out about our church from a Buddhist friend. His friend loves coming to The Abbey and recommended our church because he trusted us.

We've also used our building to serve our community in times of crisis. When wildfires forced nearby residents to flee their homes, our building became an overnight refuge for those without a place to stay.

These missional opportunities would not be possible without a building.

What about the sanctuary? When we first got the building, one person said the sanctuary "looked like a funeral parlor." We sought to remake the worship space to express our congregation's values of community, worship, and service.

First, we removed the pews. Looking at the back of peoples' heads simply didn't communicate our values of community and participation.

Displaying 1–10 of 30 comments

Amanda

March 19, 2010  12:07am

"You are excited with larger gatherings. You feel they are essential. You feel your ministry is stronger because of it. I assert you are weaker because of it. Believers consuming their own "giving" is flesh driven not faith driven. I think you are content with a smaller harvest. I think you are investing too much by sight and not enough by faith. Most of your kindred spirits are in the same system. The scriptures that are twisted to justify the system are cleverly done. The web of tradition wrapped around them is very strong and tight." Tim, The assumptions that any faith community that meets as a larger sized group are "Believers consuming their own "giving" is flesh driven not faith driven" and are not in "mutual intimacy" and instead experiencing "social shotgunning" is not true. I hope I can shed some light on what the experience actually is like at the faith community that Dan and I both attend. 1. We are passionate about sharing the gospel. The college in our town is right up the hill from our community and every week there are more and more young people who attend. I have never witnessed such a large percentage (many tattooed, pierced and chained in a faith community. Many who have never known anything about Jesus before) of young people. 2. We are not "crowd gatherings so one guy can "interact with tons of people.". There are many people from our community that teach and preach and lead worship. Many, many people. Dan, actually doesn't preach that often. And beyond that, there are many who volunteer, unpaid, to lead the women's group, children's group, etc. etc. There are very few that are paid staff. Anyone with the desire to help in the mission is encouraged all the time to step forward. 3. We are active in our community. We have countless events, groups and individual interactions with the city surrounding us. We are active in our homeless shelter, hold street interactive art shows often, active with the local Alcoholics Anonymous (who use our space), various schools, very active with the local college, etc. etc. 4. We are people who are in deep "mutual intimacy", i know because I am with several people who I've met through our community. We love deeply and share deeply our deepest pain, joy, growth and Christian journeying. There are human issues and sin alive and well in home churches as well as in larger church gatherings. There is an accountability in a larger structure that often, by personal experience, may not exist well in a home church setting. Many unchurched people, young people especially, would be uncomfortable in a small home church setting and many for that matter would be uncomfortable in a larger gathering. A larger faith community is at risk of becoming lost in "consuming their own giving" and lose sight of the needs of the community around them, but a home church is at risk of being singleminded and losing respect for people of a different Christian belief system than their own. Point being, our way has faults, your way has faults, both are groups of sin affected people. Though in our humanness you and I may believe or wish that we have a corner on God's only way to do worship and community, we don't, and in the end you and Dan are my brothers and I am your sister and we are all on this earth seeking to bring God's kingdom to the unreached and unloved, I don't think that any of us want to lose sight of that.

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Amanda

March 19, 2010  12:01am

"You are excited with larger gatherings. You feel they are essential. You feel your ministry is stronger because of it. I assert you are weaker because of it. Believers consuming their own "giving" is flesh driven not faith driven. I think you are content with a smaller harvest. I think you are investing too much by sight and not enough by faith. Most of your kindred spirits are in the same system. The scriptures that are twisted to justify the system are cleverly done. The web of tradition wrapped around them is very strong and tight." Tim, The assumptions that any faith community that meets as a larger sized group are "Believers consuming their own "giving" is flesh driven not faith driven" and are not in "mutual intimacy" and instead experiencing "social shotgunning" is not true. I hope I can shed some light on what the experience actually is like at the faith community that Dan and I both attend. 1. We are passionate about sharing the gospel. The college in our town is right up the hill from our community and every week there are more and more young people who attend. I have never witnessed such a large percentage (many tattooed, pierced and chained in a faith community. Many who have never known anything about Jesus before) of young people. 2. We are not "crowd gatherings so one guy can "interact with tons of people.". There are many people from our community that teach and preach and lead worship. Many, many people. Dan, actually doesn't preach that often. And beyond that, there are many who volunteer, unpaid, to lead the women's group, children's group, etc. etc. There are very few that are paid staff. Anyone with the desire to help in the mission is encouraged all the time to step forward. 3. We are active in our community. We have countless events, groups and individual interactions with the city surrounding us. We are active in our homeless shelter, hold street interactive art shows often, active with the local Alcoholics Anonymous (who use our space), various schools, very active with the local college, etc. etc. 4. We are people who are in deep "mutual intimacy", i know because I am with several people who I've met through our community. We love deeply and share deeply our deepest pain, joy, growth and Christian journeying. There are human issues and sin alive and well in home churches as well as in larger church gatherings. There is an accountability in a larger structure that often, by personal experience, may not exist well in a home church setting. Many unchurched people, young people especially, would be uncomfortable in a small home church setting and many for that matter would be uncomfortable in a larger gathering. A larger faith community is at risk of becoming lost in "consuming their own giving" and lose sight of the needs of the community around them, but a home church is at risk of being singleminded and losing respect for people of a different Christian belief system than their own. Point being, our way has faults, your way has faults, both are groups of sin affected people. Though in our humanness you and I may believe or wish that we have a corner on God's only way to do worship and community, we don't, and in the end you and Dan are my brothers and I am your sister and we are all on this earth seeking to bring God's kingdom to the unreached and unloved, I don't think that any of us want to lose sight of that.

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Scott Smith

December 16, 2009  12:07pm

Dan - Excellent post! I applaud the missional focus! If your church is preaching the gospel, welcoming (and seeking!) the lost, and being "light and salt", then you are right on target. Heaven forbid that we actually be relevant! Should we stay in budget? Certainly. Avoid debt? As much as possible. But you can't have a corporate gathering in a home. You can't host AA meetings without a building. You can't have classes in a coffee shop. And if you don't have a dedicated physical building, how do people know where to find you?! Great job Vintage Faith Church! Thanks for the post Dan.

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still

December 09, 2009  11:36am

"If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing." 1 Corinthians 13:3 Leonard, let's love the poor.

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Leonard

December 08, 2009  4:09pm

It is true that some buildings are what we might term excessive, but most churches I have seen this is not the case. Buildings do a lot for a church in identity, in building a light house in a community, in creating a spring board for mission. Many buildings are underused. As for moeny spent on buidlings being given to the poor, this is a sham argument. If you want to give money to the poor, then do it. Hold yourself to the same standard. Take public transit and give the money you would use on a car to the poor. Live in a studio apartment and give the money you would spend on a house to the poor. Wear used clothing and give the money you save to the poor. Skip coffee, sodas, dining out and eat 1 meal a day and give the money you save to the poor. Give up internet, movies, concerts, cable and about a zillion other things and give the money you save to the poor. Here is the big difference. At least a church like Willow gives away a huge amount each year and the money spent on buildings is used on building that house those who worship God, while the money I spend on me is for me.

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Dan

December 07, 2009  10:34pm

Wow...

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still

December 06, 2009  9:53pm

Hello Folks! This is your Good Morning Planet Earth radio talk show! Let me start the ball rolling with our Good News-Bad News ice breaker. The Good News: Willow Creek's state-of-the-art Worship Center is complete. It seats over 7,200 people making it over twice as large as the Kodak Theater in Hollywood and the largest theater in the United States. It is the first church in the world to make use of two Mitsubishi Diamond Vision high-definition LED screens 14' x 24' in size, usually seen in new sports stadiums. Each screen is movable on its own track system and can be combined into one giant screen. The Worship Center also has innovative dual, stacked-deck balconies. The cost: $73 million. This surpasses the $48 million City Harvest Church building cost, but falls a bit short of eclipsing the $75 million Lakewood Church renovation. The Bad News: According to the United Nations, about 25,000 people die everyday of hunger or hunger-related causes. This is one person every three and a half seconds. Yet there is plenty of food in the world for everyone according to the report. The problem is that hungry people are trapped in severe poverty. They lack the money to buy enough food to nourish themselves. Being constantly malnourished, they become weaker and often sick. This makes them increasingly less able to work, which then makes them even poorer and hungrier. This downward spiral often continues until death for them and their families. By the way, according to the United Nations, it is children who die most often. Folks, let's take a breather, by listening to this oldy-but-goldy Barbra Streisand's song: "People, people who need people Are the luckiest people in the world We're children, needing other children..."

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Tim

December 04, 2009  2:29pm

"I am SO thankful we have a space.." "Having a sanctuary where several hundred people can gather together at once..." "...100 leaders will gather from our church" "...he began going to the larger meetings, seeing hundreds of others his age - experiencing worship in a larger group, interacting with a ton of more people..." You are excited with larger gatherings. You feel they are essential. You feel your ministry is stronger because of it. I assert you are weaker because of it. Believers consuming their own "giving" is flesh driven not faith driven. I think you are content with a smaller harvest. I think you are investing too much by sight and not enough by faith. Most of your kindred spirits are in the same system. The scriptures that are twisted to justify the system are cleverly done. The web of tradition wrapped around them is very strong and tight. There is no clear Biblical basis for crowd gatherings so one guy can "interact with tons of people." The power of spiritual transformation is revealed to flow through mutual intimacy not social shotgunning. You can meet "a ton of people" much better in networked small groups than in big group sessions. I know you have small groups that meet for free. You are not content with this. The cost is huge. In all of this I am not saying buildings should never be used for any kind of ministry. I am saying there are far fewer reasons for the special building investment and the leadership system that usually tags along than American leaders are willing to admit. The results in American giving are very very sad. That may be a weak statement. Maybe I should they are sinful and idolatrous.

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Tim

December 04, 2009  2:23pm

Hi Dan Thanks for your personal reply. "I believe I am understanding your primary statement of that mission and ministry can happen outside of church buildings." No you missed my points. You may need to read what I said again. 1. I was saying your statement that these missional opportunities would not be possible with out a building was false. 2. I stated that ministry can happen in special buildings. However this does not justify the huge expense or all the connecting counterproductive behavior that goes along with them such as pedestalizing paid leaders (much more expense), large percentages of spectating, leadership perpetual dependency rather than reproductivity and entrusting, crowd oriented hoopla that weakens the commitment needed for full one another life, and many more. 3. With your assumptions, there is no longer any line that you can draw between your ministry and the Disneyland type. When you or the saints feel they don't fit in your paid for place, they will build a bigger one and on and on. Renting will probably cost the same but with different cash flow. The percentage of resources that flows out of your institution to reach all nations will be no different than that of the 5000 seat / 40 paid staff institution. It will be between 16 - 25% - short of a huge miracle of grace. You will devote 75 - 85% of giving to reach and build YOUR town, even though there are THOUSANDS of saints who can do that and the annual harvest may be a few hundred at most. You will allocate 14 - 25% of giving to reach the rest of the world where the harvest could be thousands and there is no one there to do it. This is a missional travesty.

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Jeremy

December 04, 2009  2:18pm

Dan, Thanks for this perspective! I myself have vacilated on the importance/necessity of buildings for ministry. I think one of the important points to catch in your post is that for us to be good stewards we must utilize these facilities for more than just a sunday experience. They need to be open for life to happen in them as often as possible!

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