Church Buildings: Their Strategic Importance for Advancing the Gospel
Conflicted Views about Church Buildings
Church is not a building
1. Over the years I have held and heard two basic views on church buildings. The first is the repeated emphasis, “the church is not a building.” This is completely true. As Stephen said in Acts 7, “the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands”. Even the New Testament term for ‘church’ is a gathering of people, not a spatial structure.
2. The problem with the response “the church is not a building” is that it can sometimes be used to end the discussion about whether a church (people gathered) needs to have a building. Being clear about what the church is, doesn’t change the reality of what the church does. Gathering to learn, sing, pray, and eat as part of its corporate life requires many facilitating things. I guess that is why buildings can be called facilities. They facilitate or help what goes on inside of them.
The second view is that church buildings are important for our witness in the community. This is also true. When a church is established so that it can have a fixed gathering place, it lends to its overall public credibility. The community understands that this gathering of people is not temporary, and that the church is not going to disappear in six months.
Many people who are asking questions about Christianity are very skittish about entering into the home of strangers, or into a non-descript warehouse or other place of business which the church may be renting. When a church owns its own building it is making a public statement about its identity and it welcomes the inquiry of the watching world.
Just as the church seeks to have a corporate witness with their lives and actions, their ownership of a public facility expresses a part of that witness. When a church has a building in a community, it communicates a desire to be there long term, with an enduring witness that is presented publicly, summoning all to hear its message.
Strategic Importance of Buildings
Another Tool for Ministry
1. A building helps the church gathering to do the things that it has gathered to do. A roof keeps worshipers dry and focused, seating permits people to stay comfortably quiet and orderly so that all can hear the teaching. Hallways and doors keep young children protected and accounted for. Classrooms, libraries and offices provide suitable teaching spaces or places to study and counsel.
2. A building also assists the church to carry out ministry throughout the week. Prayer meetings, bible studies, counselling sessions, bible clubs, and many more activities of the church are carried out through the building. The members of the church engage in many good works apart from the building in their homes, neighborhoods and workplaces, but the building can be a place of ministry together with other church members.
3. So a church building isn’t the only the place where ministry happens. But it is a strategically important tool for ministry.
An Investment in Coming Generations
1. Capital can be spent today on facilities, so that others don’t have to. Future church members can spend their resources on doing ministry in their generation.
2. Buildings like churches come and go. But there are many examples of buildings that were built, and even though the churches became unorthodox, later gospel-centred churches acquired the buildings and used them as a centre for gospel advancement. Calvin’s church in Geneva, St Pierre, was formerly a Roman Catholic church which he preached from to advance the Reformation. John Knox’s church in Edinburgh, St Giles had the same history and similar results.
A Support for Other Ministries
1. Churches who own facilities are often able to assist other institutions that are not the local church, but are run by Christians.
2. Christian K-12 schools, mission agencies, seminaries, and other para-church ministries often use the facilities of a local church in order to carry out their work.
Strategic Christians in Spiritual Warfare
Decreased Influence in a Secular Society
1. Many Christians today decry their loss of influence in society. Socially and politically Canada and the US are trending towards comprehensive secularism and the erosion of religious liberty. This means that for churches the facility options that existed at the end of the 20th century won’t likely exist by the end of the 21st.
2. In Germany, a Reformed Evangelical pastor told me that the liberal churches refuse to sell their buildings to evangelicals. Many non-Christian property owners will not even rent their facilities to evangelical groups. For this German pastor, the options for buying or renting a potential church facility are very limited. He claimed there are only 10 gospel-preaching churches in Germany, the former land of Luther, with a population of 80 million.
Strategic Influence to Advance the Gospel
1. With the changing cultural climate, Christians need to consider how they can make strategic choices today, in order to preserve and promote gospel witness in the future.
2. As society becomes more urbanized, city centres will grow in population density. Unfortunately many churches left the urban centres for the suburbs in the mid-20th century. Today, there are relatively few gospel-centred churches in central core of most North American cities.
3. Churches should think strategically for the the advance of the gospel when they consider purchasing property in the urban core areas. Many of these properties will be even more expensive to acquire in the future, leaving growing populations without a church gathering in near proximity.
4. Although properties in urban cores tend to be smaller with less parking and convenience for suburban car-owners, the sacrifices of inconvenience are amply compensated by possessing a strategic outpost in the heart of a secular city. Just as the big-box consumer stores are declining, so will big-box suburban churches in an increasingly hostile secular culture.
Consider that these points as you pray about the prospect of buying the St John Lutheran property. It is important that we have an understanding of what a building is and is not.
Pray about this ‘ministry tool’ and whether it is something that God would like us to employ for the advance of the gospel.
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