The Problem With Church Buildings

One of the first questions every church planter (after, “Why won’t you turn the music down?”) will face is “When will we move into our own building?” The school, theater, cardboard box is fine for today, but what they really want to know is when we’ll be a “real church”. This begins as a solo, grows to an ensemble, morphs into a chorus and soon emerges as a significant choir. If you listen very closely you can hear the chant echo across the fruited plane even now, “We want a building, We want a Building, WE WANT A STINKIN’ BUILDING!!!”

And why do they want a building? Because a building will make your church much, much more effective and fulfilling your God-inspired vision. If we had a building…

We could do more discipleship classes

We could help feed the poor

We could house widows and orphans

We could host teas and coffees (and poker nights if you’re reformed)

And as a pastor you dream of a building of your own…

You could sleep in until 5:30 a.m. on Sunday mornings

You could have a real office instead of a corner of the spare bedroom

You whole staff would have a place to plug in their laptops at meetings

You wouldn’t have to shout over the coffee grinder during counseling sessions

There is no doubt that in many ways a permanent building makes some things easier. Not having to set up and tear down every weekend might add five years to the life span of the average church planter. Not having to whisper (or shout) during counseling would probably be more effective.  But there are some major drawbacks to having a 24/7 building.  Let me throw out some things a building won’t solve today, tomorrow we’ll look at some of the challenges a building brings and Thursday I’ll give some ways to stave off the building zombie choir.

First, a building won’t make you a real church. I’m sure you realize that the Christian church built few, if any, buildings before 300 AD. There were likely some renovated homes and expanded shops, but the real building bug didn’t bite until Constantine had seen the light. Then the church got busy building and they made up for lost time.

The sad thing is that many of the church buildings are now just shells. They are beautiful to look at, but there is no life inside. The reality is that the church was vibrant before the first building was built, but in many cases that vibrancy died after the cathedral was completed. The building didn’t kill the church, but it didn’t sustain it either.

There are many examples of vibrant, real churches with no buildings. In Hawaii most newer churches have no hope of ever owning a building, yet they continue to grow and thrive and plant new churches. I met a young man the other day who pastors a growing church for homeless people in the Miami area, and they meet under a tree. I realize those are extreme examples, but the point is that a building doesn’t validate a church, the anointing of the Holy Spirit validates a church.

And if you have a leadership development problem, a discipleship problem or a volunteer recruitment problem now, you will still have those challenges once you have a building. If people aren’t growing at your church now they still won’t be growing when you put a permanent roof over their heads. Rather than focusing on the nirvana of building ownership you will be better served focusing on the core challenges and keeping the buiding monster at bay.