Thursday, August 23, 2012

One thing killing our small churches

Over the past couple of weeks I've had some challenging posts on this blog.  Yesterday I wrote about how churches need to address the problem of controllers.  A few days earlier my blog post was about the desire of smaller churches to develop a youth group even when there are no youth in the church.  The post about youth has been the most read and circulated post I've had in a long time.  Today, I'm sorry to say that I'm going to have yet another post that may upset some people.  I want to briefly touch on one thing that is killing many of our smaller churches, and that one thing is their buildings.

Churches have become fascinated with buildings.  Many believe "If they build it they willl come," and don't realize that isn't reality until it becomes difficult to meet the mortgage payment each month.  In recent years I've seen numerous churches build facilities they didn't need and couldn't afford, and these facilities have often had a very negative impact on the church's ability to do ministry.  They have also been an issue when the church needs to seek a new pastor or staff person.  The building consumes so much of the church's income that there is little money left for ministry or for salaries.

It has become popular for churches to build family life centers which are often little more than glorified basketball courts.  These churches are often strapped for years trying to pay off the mortgage on that FLC.  When I was pastor we could rent a local armory for a Sunday afternoon of basketball for $20.00 a day.  We didn't have to worry about utilities, insurance, upkeep, or a big mortgage payment.  We paid our $20.00 and enjoyed an afternoon playing basketball.  Some churches are able to use their FLCs for outreach programs such as Upwards Basketball, but many other churches see both their sanctuaries and FLCs sit unused five or six days a week.

I cannot remember where, but recently I read a comment that said many new church starts do very well until someone gets the idea they need a building.  At that point efforts to reach new people cease and all the focus and energy are directed to finding property.  For some reason it stops being acceptable to rent worship space from some organization once someone suggests the new church needs to own property. 

This problem is not limited to churches building facilities they cannot afford or new churches wanting to own property and have a "proper" church building.  It also involves churches that have older facilities it struggles to maintain and churches that have large facilities from a time when the congregation was much larger that it no longer needs since the congregation has declined.  In some cases the upkeep and fixed expenses of these properties consume whatever ministry money a church may have almost ensuring the church will never effectively reach the unchurched in their communities.

An organic church planter once told me that he believed a church of 30 people could do anything in a home they could do in a church building.  He's absolutely right.  I believe it is time to make this a stewardship question and ask if spending so much money on buildings is really the best way to utilize the resources God makes available to us. 

I know this will be difficult for some people to handle, but many of our smaller churches would be much better off to sell their properties, begin to meet in homes or rented facilities, and use the money they gained from the sale of their property to do ministry in their communities.  Schools, clubs, motels, and various other organizations would be delighted to offer your congregation a place to meet on Sundays for much less money than what many churches are paying to maintain their properties.  A church that made this change would then be able to be more missional as it focuses on serving the community in which Christ has placed it, and it would have the financial resources to be better able to do this.

This post does not mean that I am against church buildings or even churches building new facilities to enable it to provide better ministry.  There is certainly a place for church buildings, but that does not mean that every church must have its own building.  Many churches would find great freedom in no longer owning property and find it much easier to begin offering new ministries to people who need Christ in their lives.

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