This week, I am asking questions about the church. Full disclosure: I love the Big C church, but I am not in love with the church. I am frustrated beyond belief and looking for better questions to help me get to a better understanding of how the hell we got here and how we get out of here. Also, since seminary, I have been opposed to building new church buildings. I belonged to a church that met in homes, then met in a parking lot rain or shine. Eventually, they renovated a warehouse and moved church indoors. I loved the energy of this church. I loved knowing that we met to celebrate, but the church was what we engaged in doing the rest of the week. One more thing, I am going to make generalized statements about the church that might not fit your church. So, read knowing that I am in process.
Ok, back to my thoughts….My consistent thought pattern circles around the established church’s obsession with building buildings. Really, I am thinking for the future church, but I am also worried about the church in present day. Church budgets are handcuffed with astonishing mortgages and building maintenance on top of that amount. The leftover money gets divided between paying ministerial staff and the mission of the church. If we take extra offerings, then we give that money to organizations to help with need around the country and our world. No wonder the next generation is saying, “Screw that! Let’s cut out the middle man.” They are not entering our buildings anymore because we are no longer The Church.
Our family just recently embraced the Mattingly form of minimalism. We simplified the size of our home, our car payments and bills. We are only 4 months into this new way of living, but I started thinking about how the church like our family followed our culture’s idea of more money more house. For many years, I lived with the idea that we would get a better/bigger home after I went back to work. I went back to work and that is exactly what we did until one-day Chad and I looked at each other and thought, “What are we doing?” We earned more money, but payed more for the house. We were not able to be more generous with our family, our community and our world.
The church embraced the same messed up idea. We gather a group of people and long for the day that we can build a building. We move into that building and then need something bigger and better, so we raise some money for a down payment. We get in over our heads and when tragedy happens like conflict or a charismatic pastor leaves. We feel the handcuffs growing tighter. Then, we cut ministry budgets and the new minister’s salary. To protect the building from needing more repairs, we squash innovative ways of utilizing the building during the week. I feel compelled to ask, “Is the church building serving The Church or is the church serving the church building?”
Long gone are the days that the buildings we own mean anything to the community. Think about the days when our buildings were the place for all town gatherings, for schools, orphanages, and the place where people gathered for worship. Now, we have a church building on every corner, so most people just drive by unfazed. Your church may get a shake of the head (or a bold middle finger) if it is gaudy because people know how much money the church spent on a building. Most likely they are not angry at the church’s success in gathering people, but they are frustrated by the church’s misdirected energy. We are misguided and misdirected. I own my own misdirected energy.
We all have buildings so what can we do??
1-Pay it off. Come together as a church to pay off the building in 3-5 years so that you can be free to do the work of the church sooner than later.
2-Make your building count. Bring back purpose to your building in a way that your community finds meaningful. Does your community need a private school option? Does your community need someone to focus on The Arts? Does your community need a food bank?
3-Partner with a business or another church to bring in additional revenue. We need to get a little more business minded in using our buildings. What business needs workspace and can pay rent?
4-If you are considering a new church start, nestle your new church in someone else’s church building/school/a bar/restaurant/ coffee shop/home/parking lot. Evaluate the “why” behind needing your own building.