This is part 3 of a series of reflections about the journey of starting a church and leaving established, organizational, denominational religion. It’s a lot like unplugging from the matrix. (Read Part 1, Read Part 2)
The Church Building. Also known as the sanctuary, worship center, nave, cathedral, auditorium, chapel, worship-torium, etc.
Churches waste money on buildings.
Church buildings aren’t inherently bad. Good things can come from a church having a building. But a church shouldn’t have to waste loads of money on a building – instead of investing in things that better serve the Kingdom of God and alleviate suffering in the world.
Everything that makes the church “the church” can be accomplished without a building. Can the Gospel be proclaimed without a building? Yes. Can you love and serve your neighbor without a building? Yes. Can you care for orphans, widows, and strangers without a building? Yes. Can you learn more about Jesus, the Bible, and discipleship without a building? Yes. Can you baptize people without a permanent baptistry or font? Yes. Can you share God’s meal of bread and wine without permanent furniture? Yes.
Oh, oh, oh, but how will we have a potluck luncheon, if we don’t have a building?!?
Well, the first issue is that you’ve named something a potluck luncheon :-). If anything, not having a physical building enhances our ability to be a community and tribe. Not having a building forces us to build relationships around tables, at bars, and in living rooms, which is where community is meant to happen and really occurs.
Mike quoted David Platt last year:
He makes a pretty good case that traditional churches are not very effective or efficient at helping change the world because they tend to get consumed with their buildings, their campuses and their little empires. (American Christians spend $10 billion a year on their church buildings, and almost a quarter trillion dollars is tied up in church-owned real estate.) In his book, Platt does a good job of challenging Christians to start caring less about building fancy, state-of-the-art church campuses and, instead, to start caring more about impacting the world for good.
One of the biggest cultural shifts for people that leave established/institutional church is getting over the building. The challenge is finding a way to create sacred spaces where people can feel like they’re “at church,” while not sacrificing the money to have an empty building 6 days a week.
I find myself in the curious position of belonging to a generation that is young enough to be suspicious of the institutional church and old enough to be suspicious of those who are suspicious of the institutional church.
While I really appreciate your bravery in breaking out of the “ministry-as-usual” church, I’m still left with questions. For example, churches pay a lot of money for church buildings, but they also pay a lot for pastors, projectors and websites. Do you unplug from that matrix as well? Is ministry in a coffee shop or bar actually more effective or cheaper than ministry done at a potluck luncheon? All those coffees and beers add up, after all. Add to that the babysitters you’d have to hire (or hot chocolates and root beers you’d have to buy if you bring the kids along) and I’m not sure that you’d come out too far ahead. (The coffee shop and pub would, though.) Is the phrase “potluck luncheon” any more out of touch with the real world (whatever that is) than phrases like “unplugging from the matrix” or “missional church”? Every tribe has its vocabulary.
Part of the reason I bring up all these questions is that I work in a church that was your church 30 years ago. They weren’t going to buy a building or hire a pastor. They were going to fight the Man and do real ministry that was relevant to culture, unfettered by the chains of institutional Christianity. But after 15 years of setting up folding chairs in gymnasiums they realized that time was as precious resource as money. Now we have a church that has provided a stable center for our ministry. Yes, it costs a lot of money, but it opens up new forms of ministry as well. Families with kids can come to a potluck followed by a Bible study for the parents and youth groups for the kids. Hundreds of recent immigrants attend ESL classes and a “basic English” worship service. People show up at the door to use our food and clothing pantry.
I think what your church is doing is great. But if your church is anything like my church–or pretty much any church in the world–it’s going to have to learn how to adapt its ideals over time as the congregation ages and its traditions solidify. Your children will make fun your church’s cherished traditions just as surely as I roll my eyes when I hear “Trust and Obey.” Or to put in another way, you’ll unplug from one matrix just to create another.
I’ll be interested to hear how your church has grown 15 years from now. Let’s put a follow up conversation in our calendars for 15 years from now!
Greg – thanks for reading and commenting. I was sure that I had your book on my shelf, but when I went to look for it I couldn’t put my finger on it. I’ll add it to the list!
Re: pastors, projectors, and websites – yes I think many new expressions of church are changing the way they do even these essential things. Projectors can be borrowed, websites can be done for free, and pastors can be bi-vocational. I can testify that our excursion into starting a church has been carrying on for 9 months on a $0 budget (except for salaries).
Now, my potluck luncheon comment was a lame attempt at humor. There is nothing wrong with a picnic, or potluck, or any other event with food. I was just picking on the name. 🙂
I appreciate your insight about the context you are in, and the history behind it. I think you have some really good points and experiences. Things definitely change. Time will tell. One of the things we’ve done is built this concept of “traveling light” (low expenses – 0 debt) into the bedrock DNA of our church culture. Hopefully it will be as ingrained as small groups and practicing grace in our lives and it will stick with us.
Another concept that some churches are applying is the multi-site, multi-venue services. Some are able to acquire the different properties necessary to do this, but most will rent or borrow. It’s totally possible to reach far and dig deep and not break the bank.
But you are right about every generation needing to reprocess and adapt what church means/is for them. My hope is that we can remain faithful to the biblical text as much as possible through the different interpretations of how to do church.
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