Before embarking on a building project, I think ministry and church leadership should ask themselves some hard questions. Gone are the days of “if you build it they will come.” I think I’ve heard all the arguments and reasons that people should support a building or capital project. We usually appeal to something outreach related. Something like, “We want to use our building for outreach in the community, so we need to do this building project.” That might sound altruistic, but I have never heard of a church growing because it has a really nice or newly renovated building. I have never heard someone’s conversion story go like this: “I turned my life over to Jesus because the church on Third Avenue has a nice building.”
While most churches do open their buildings to the community for various events, I think building projects primarily benefit the people who already attend. We do it to have more comfortable, attractive, and convenient places for us to worship. I also think many of the professionally religious champion building projects because of what it potentially communicates about their leadership. Building projects give the appearance that there is a lot going on—that the leadership must be drawing more people and generating momentum. I’ve seen it in countries all over the world; the professionally religious use the size of their church buildings to broadcast how “big” a leader they want to be viewed as.
Not only should individual leaders question their motives about spending millions of dollars on building projects, but the leadership teams (elders, councils, deacons, and boards) should also ask themselves the same types of questions. Number goals and statements about being the “flagship” or the biggest church in the community can be veiled spiritual arrogance.
I can only imagine the amount of impact we could have in our communities and the world with the billions of dollars that are tied up in North American dirt, cement, and padded pews. And in an image, comfort, excess, and convenience-obsessed culture, it will take some very courageous servant leaders to cast a different vision of what the Church should otherwise be.
If yours is a church that works through the challenges of not having its own building, don’t give up or give in to the idea that your people need brick and mortar to identify themselves as a church. If you’re a part of the majority of churches that do own their own buildings, how can you profoundly minimize the resource-sucking effect that your building likely has on your priorities? Can you share the building with another congregation, or maybe two? Can you plant a new church in the community rather than build to expand? Would you even have the courage to help another church grow and encourage people to attend other congregations?
I understand there are huge logistical challenges facing a church without a home building. I appreciate the rich spiritual traditions and symbols that exist in sacred places. But I also don’t see New Testament precedent for church-building projects commensurate with the resources we allocate to them.
I don’t believe that capital projects are always wrong. But I do think that they are often wrong, and we spend hundreds of millions of dollars on building projects for the wrong reasons. If Jesus was serious when He said, “Where your money is, there will your heart also be,” (Matthew 6:21 NLT), the numbers tell us that for the North American church, our hearts are in our buildings.
An excerpt from the book Professionally Religious.