A Reexamination of the Church Building

In 2004, a long time ago and what seem like a galaxy far, far away, a stranger named Regan wrote a few posts expressing his views on the church building. Recently, in discussions on Facebook, discussion over the building resurfaced. After rereading this writings from 2004, I think my views are a little different than Regan's.

Here are the posts from 2004:
The Chain that Keeps the Church from Flying
Questions concerning abandoning the sanctuary

I still struggle with a church owning a building. In our leadership meetings, we have even discussed in about selling our church building with the intention of moving our gathering to the school auditorium or in one of the storefronts downtown. In the end, the financial savings would not be all that much. Either we would have to become smaller and meet in various houses or we would need a rich homeowner with a lot of room in his home to provide us with a place to gather. The baffling thing is that we would probably lose at least one family from doing that. I would hate to see that. To illustrate the point of the role of the building in some people's view of church, the last two summers we moved our gathering to the park for three Sundays. A family silently protested our gathering in the park and did not come to worship with us. As for our church, we only have eight years left of paying the mortgage and we are in the clear.

One difference I have noticed from when I gathered with Christians in houses to now is that random people never popped into a house gathering. They all have to be personally invited. There is an advantage to that, but there is a great disadvantage. The advantage is that the church is based purely around relationships. The disadvantage is that the church would not get strangers who become friends through them seeking out a place to belong. Invited friends are more comfortable (and more as meaning "still not that comfortable") checking out a church in a church building than in a house. The building is an outrageously expensive tool, but it does seem to work at opening the door to share the Gospel and get people connected with other believers despite all of my arguments against it.

Although I approve of buildings now (not that they needed my approval), buildings should not be our default position. It's often like, "Ooh, we are a church. Now let's build a building to be official." But we don't need a building to be official. The negatives of church buildings can outweigh the positives. They limit the size to which a church can grow. They create a mindset that God is more present there than where we eat, work, play, and sleep. And a multitude of other problems.

Then I come back to the situation I find myself in. The situation in which I believe God placed me. Probably to stretch me along with others. In this situation, it seems unwise to get rid of the building, so we are trying to make sure that we give God glory through His building not being empty throughout the week. We changed the name of our building away from the name of the church (the building is the Riverside Family Center and we are the Riverside Christian Church) because we want it to be a blessing to the community rather than just our church's building. We view it as a missions center rather than a sacred place.

I also understand Ken Williamson's (an article entitled "My Next Church" that I discussed yesterday in my post "Toward a Better Church") comments about the division over things in our building. The church I am a pastor at has been here forty-nine years now. The building was build just a few years after that start. Unknowingly, I created a lot of controversy when I rearranged the stage. I didn't know that it hadn't been rearranged except for weddings since it was set in that place over forty years ago. Since then, we have sold the pews and communion table - creating controversy, but we thought it was worth it (I had been making and living through decisions like that). Selling the pews did not go over well, but it allows the gathering room to have other uses beside the one hour it is used on Sunday mornings. That room is pretty expensive to be used only one hour a week.

When we received our nearly $800 air conditioner repair bill the other week, it definitely made me rethink the building. But I just concluded that was an expense to help the daycare exist. The organization running our daycare had been looking for a home for years. Antwerp does not have a licensed daycare, and there was no place working out. The over year long process should be rewarded with a license on Monday! When I came here, we started discussing using the building for other purposes throughout the week, and we connected with the daycare. Hopefully, it will be a blessing to the community. Hopefully, we can find other uses for our building to be a blessing to the community.

What I see as a problem from the organic church crowd (and myself from 2004) is that they just disregard the  building entirely, but I am learning to see that God can use a building for His glory. We just need to disregard our conceptions of what the uses of the building should be. I anticipate that I will get a complaint today because we have a lot of sorted clothes from our Kid's Clothes Closet in the back of our worship gathering room (for lack of a better word because I don't want to use "sanctuary") waiting to be hauled away. But I am fine with that. I will emphasize that the gathering room is a mission station. Sometimes things get messy when we are doing the work of the Lord.

I have wrestled with the building many a time, and I am sure that I will continue to wrestle with it in the future. Not only does it take financial resources, it also takes mental resources and physical resources through thinking about what needs to be improved and through actually maintaining it. May we all be willing to use our building in whatever way God calls us to despite our preconceptions.