First Church is in an urban center in Ohio. The community around the church has changed dramatically. The homes are now occupied by people of a different culture than those who attend the church. A nearby hospital is purchasing homes, one-by-one, as it rapidly expands.
First Church is housed in a three-story, 104-year-old, deteriorating building. No one, including the pastor, lives near the church. As a consultant, the recommendation was clear: abandon this facility and relocate before your membership dwindles to nothing. However, it didn’t end there. The plan included working with the hospital and local YMCA to raze the building and construct a mission facility, deploying a missionary to the people who live there. For many of the members, this was the challenge of a century. Tear down our beloved building?
Focus on these issues:
- The church building is, at the end of the day, just a building. The real First Church is the people.
- The mission God has given is not to preserve buildings, but to reach people.
- In the early church, many Christians met in houses. For centuries, Christians have met in borrowed or rented facilities, or changed locations when it was warranted.
- A facility has historic interest only to a historic society. The salvation of lost people is what matters for Christians.
- Buildings are a means to an end, never an end in themselves.
- If your church stationery or bulletin has a picture of your building, you are training people in bad theology. Put pictures of people on the bulletin, because that’s who Jesus came to save.
- Look for an increasing number of churches in the future, as part of their basic philosophy of ministry, to never own a building. (I’ve worked with a church in Palm Desert, California, that rents a Seventh-Day Adventist church. The building is always available on Sundays, and their mission spending is 50% of their budget.)
- In the future, look for more churches to share a building with several other churches. (I know of five churches in Lansing, Michigan, that built a multi-purpose building and share it, using it at different times.)
- A growing strategy for reaching unchurched people in our secular society is to get church out of the building and into the marketplace. That’s why churches have worship services at movie theaters, rented restaurant rooms, elementary schools, and, the next trend, bars—on Sunday morning (before they can sell liquor).
You might harbor the wish, “I always wanted to be buried from this church building.” Trust me, you won’t know and it won’t matter! What does matter is that we subordinate our loyalty to the building and elevate our commitment to reach people for Christ.
How has your church handled its bricks and mortar? We welcome your comments below.
Kent Hunter, founder of Church Doctor Ministries, is known as the Church Doctor. His most recent e-books are The Future Is Now and The J-Dog Journey, available at no cost. Contact him at (800) 626-8515, by email, Twitter, Facebook, or visit www.churchdoctor.org.