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God's Housing Crisis

Why should church buildings get so much of the financial, physical, and social attention that is rightly due to the needs of Christians and others? Asked by Kofo Olomu, Cotonou, Benin
2005This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

Interestingly, church history shows an inverse ratio between dynamic church multiplication and preoccupation with buildings. Emphasis on buildings is generally linked with relatively slow growth or even decline.

Rapidly growing movements generally put little stress on buildings, tending toward pragmatism and flexibility, meeting wherever they can. The exception: If large subsidies are available, rapid church growth and focus on buildings may go together for a generation or two before the building-centeredness begins to sap church vitality.

Jesus showed a radical attitude toward the Jerusalem temple. He claimed that he himself fulfilled the temple's meaning and function.

Through Jesus true worship can occur any time, any place. Jesus says in Matthew 18:20, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." The physical temple is now theologically unnecessary.

Through Jesus' incarnation and resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit, the church itself has become the temple of God. Since Pentecost, buildings are no longer God's dwelling. God now "tabernacles" and "temples" in communities of disciples who meet together in Jesus' name.

Why then do congregations devote so much attention to buildings? Buildings are places where ministry happens, so most congregations argue that they need to be good stewards of these facilities—and that takes time and money. But in some cases, presuppositions about what church ministries are supposed to look like—including athletic facilities, more and larger meeting rooms, etc.—put church leaders under pressure to build and build when it might not be the best investment for the church. Buildings are not wrong, but congregations, like everyone else, tend to have expectations. ...

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