Logan Wolf, church planter in Utah, approached me (Jacob) a week ago and asked to write a post on church buildings. I read the post he sent, and honestly, thought it needed a little balance. So I asked Chris Talbot to write a rebuttal. Keep in mind church buildings are a secondary issue at best, although I’d probably say tertiary. So neither Chris nor Logan are going to start another denomination over this. But the disagreement can help sharpen all of us as we young guys consider things like buildings and what to do or what not to do with them in ministry. Logan is up first, and Chris will offer a rebuttal soon.
I don’t want a church building.
As I look at the Bible, church history, the underground church, as well as the house church and portable church movements today, you would be hard pressed to convince me that a building is necessary. I understand the benefits of a permanent facility and I’m not saying every church that owns property needs to sell it (though for some that would be a step forward). It’s just that from what I have observed, there is a tendency for church buildings to become thieves, taking what ought to be given to the community in which the local body lives and serves.
Church buildings steal money. There is no such thing as a cheap building. Regardless of whether you’re talking about constructing a brand new facility or renovating an existing one, you are always talking thousands of dollars. And the costs never stop. On top of monthly payments there is utilities, insurance, maintenance, and so on. It’s easy for a large portion of the budget to never cross the property line. Though a twenty in the offering may not come close to that month’s electric bill, it can buy a dozen Bibles to give away at the fair. Or it can be divvied up between a couple homeless guys. Or it can help get another missionary/church planter on the field.
Church buildings steal energy. Not only do permanent facilities involve ongoing costs, but they also require ongoing work. They need weekly cleaning, regular upkeep, and landscaping. Such tasks often fall on the congregation, and rightly so. If you have a building, you should take care of it. Still, I have been in more than one church where the pastor encouraged people to get involved in the local ministry and then preceded to ask for volunteers to clean and cut the grass. I know that with a building such jobs are necessary, but I think a great disservice is done when they are labeled “ministry” and thus elevated to the same level as say handing out tracks or feeding the poor.
Church buildings steal focus. Because buildings never stop taking money and energy, the attention they demand is constant. In fact, the more money and energy needed to keep them running smoothly, the more attention they garner. When you are dumping large amounts of money and energy into something, you are going to focus on it. I enjoy being in services where I get to hear from missionaries or church planters. However, more than a few times I’ve listened to presentations dominated by a building program. They show pictures of the construction and talk about how much more money they need to finish it, while the real reason they’re on the field takes a back seat. What about the people? What opportunities are there to share the Gospel?
Again, I’m not saying church buildings are wrong. I do think that they have the potential to do more harm than good; that those ministries that have property should step back and evaluate their situation so as to be as effective as possible. What are your thoughts?