Wednesday, February 23, 2011

12 Thoughts for Church Planters: How Not to Focus on Church Buildings

The place or building where your church meets is a great tool for accomplishing your mission, but the building itself is not the church. What happens when you meet there is also very critical to accomplishing the mission, but that's not church either.

The church is God's people on mission!
And there are local expressions of the Church around the world.



The mission of the Church is not to fill up 
buildings on Sunday mornings!

The apostle Paul makes it clear that God's "intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Eph 3:10-11)

As the Church fulfills God's mission and displays God's wisdom, it will result in many places/buildings being filled with disciples making disciples making disciples! But the place of gathering must not become the focus or the objective.

In the US, church planters often feel that it is necessary to have a building in order to be a legitimate or viable church. This pursuit can have the following unintended consequences:
1. It creates unnecessary pressure on the church planter.
2. Efforts to secure the right location can distract from the mission to make disciples.
3. Limited resources are consumed by rent and insurance payments.

Last week I posted 23 Reasons for Rapid Church Growth in China and several derived principles. One of the reasons had to do with buildings...
Another factor, which was enforced by the hostile environment, is the fact that the vast majority of churches did not have the option of using a dedicated church building. They instead used homes or shops in most cases. This means there was no facility expense to tie up the resources of the congregation and consume their energy and attention. It also assisted believers in maintaining an outward focus in ministry rather than an inward focus.
The inability to actually secure buildings for churches to use as meeting places eliminated the pressure to find a place, kept the focus on the real mission of the church, and released resources for disciplemaking.

Church Planters in the U.S. must resist the temptation
 to become obsessed with the building and 
what takes place in the building,
 as well as measuring success by the size 
or fullness of the building. 

Recently, I asked Pen Cook (Paradox) to consider how he was going to prevent the acquiring of a building for their church plant from consuming all the energy, resources, activity, and focus of his new church. He became quite animated as we discussed this concern. He recognized how easily having a building of their own could result in “every single night or day I could do something at the church.”

As his coach, I felt that it was critical for Pen to consider how they would address the situation before they found a building for their own use. I hope you'll consider how these might influence you in your  church planting context:

12 Practical Ways to Keep a 
Church Building from Consuming a Church Plant

1. Be absolutely clear on what your church is about!
     Know God’s mission. Align with that mission! The mission is to make disciples who make disciples. Talk about it often. Do it well. Keep the main thing the main thing. Evaluate everything you do by how it helps you to fulfill the mission of Jesus.

2. Fight against Consumer Christianity and for Missional Christianity.
     Be anti-consumer. Consider how your church ministries and programs are catering to the needs, wants and desires of Christians. Stop doing that! Instead, equip everyone to engage those in the culture around with the gospel together in community.

3. Use the building less frequently by being “the church” in local neighborhoods.
     It is so easy when you lease or purchase a building to move all activity that previously happened throughout your mission field in homes and public spaces to now take place in the “church building.” This often hinders mission by extracting believers away from contact with unbelievers.

4. Let groups and organizations in your community use your building – for free!
     The church has been blessed to be a blessing. Allowing people and groups to benefit from using your building will increase good will and may open opportunities to partner together. Creatively explore ways to offer your building to others.

5. Watch carefully that your financial resources are not consumed by building expenses.
     Like owning a home, once you acquire a space to meet there is a tendency to spend more and more on furnishing, decorating and improving the space: sound equipment, lighting, video projectors and screens, chairs, etc. It all adds up! And it’s quite easy to borrow money to accomplish all of this – restricting budget dollars for years to come.

6. Use language that prevents the building from becoming known as the church.
     According to the New Testament, the “church” is the missionary people of God – not a physical structure or building. Reserve “church” to describe God’s people and refer to the building as the campus, meeting place, or other culturally appropriate term.

7. Create a multi-use feel to the space so that no one identifies it for exclusive groups or purposes.
     Expand your building’s functionality. It’s natural to “brand” your space and quickly identify the space as only suitable for certain spiritual activities. This often results in a building that is unused most of the week. That’s not good stewardship. Be intentional about designing a multi-purpose building that is utilized for various gatherings and functions.

8. Teach everyone that the Church is the “people of God” and the building is a tool.
     Make this a frequent topic of teaching from sermons to membership classes, from small groups to newsletters, and any other opportunities. We are the Church; the building is not the church. (I Peter 2:9, 10)

9. Be the visible presence of Christ’s Church in your community.
     Look for ways for your church to serve others in your community. Seeks ways to meet genuine needs in each neighborhood. Visibly demonstrate and declare the gospel in tangible ways all over your town or city.

10. Sponsor community events in your building.
     Use the building for the good of others! Whether it’s opening your doors to host a community concert, seminar or benefit OR offering Celebrate Recovery, Alpha courses, or other outreach focused activities. Open the doors. Invite others to come in often – and not just to come on Sundays to worship with believers.

11. Don’t use the building for Bible studies, small groups, or missional communities.
     Keep your “church” gathering in off-campus locations. Don’t assume that because you have a building – everything needs to happen in the building. (That’s stupid!) Keep the church gathering in neighborhoods (homes and public places) that are easily accessible to neighbors, friends and co-workers.

12. Don’t make everything about the “Sunday Show.”
     It’s common to emphasize the Sunday worship gathering of believers as the primary activity of your church. However, this is only one way that the Church fulfills its mission. (And although it’s really important – it’s not the most important thing that Christians do). Believers will worship God for eternity; we don’t get to make disciples who make disciples eternally. Overemphasizing what happens when we worship in the “church building” can hinder the commitment of church members to live a life of worship and witness all week long.

Which of these twelve practical ways resonates with you?

Who do you need to share this list with?

What will you do to keep your church building from consuming your church plant?

Related Posts:
Are We Too Focused on "How We Meet?"
The Challenge of Engaging the Culture
From Seating Capacity to Sending Capacity
From "Doing Church" to "Being Church"
Church is NOT a Destination

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