Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Obsessing Over Church Buildings

Let me start by saying that I am not opposed to "church buildings" (a building owned by the local church to facilitate worship and Bible study). I know there are some who say that church buildings are wrong, especially those in the so-called "house-church movement," but I am NOT one of those people. I firmly believe that church buildings, like song books and pews and collection plates, are authorized generically by means of necessary inference and expediency. So again, there is nothing wrong with autonomous local churches making the decision to own a building in which they assemble for worship and Bible study.

However, I do believe that there are some attitudes among brethren that are indicative of an obsession of church buildings. And this really bothers me.

There are some who act as if, without a church building, the church just can't function. I heard of a congregation that split recently; the larger segment of brethren was still a small group (less than 30) and yet their first obstacle was finding a building to purchase. It was as if they weren't officially a church until they owned their own building. Then there was another scenario where a man contacted me online to seek prayers (and financial assistance) on behalf of his congregation. Why? Because there was some damage to their small building and he was worried that some of the members might leave if they didn't have good facilities in which to assemble. I have spoken to men in the past who have made efforts to establish new churches in remote areas or in areas where there are no faithful congregations, and one of the first steps in that process was securing and purchasing a nice building in which to meet, even if there was only one or two families starting out.

Here's why this bothers me: when you read through the New Testament, you see countless examples of local churches meeting in upper-rooms, in homes, outdoors and in other public places. And yet in the 21st century, it's as if such arrangements aren't good enough. What is wrong with a small congregation meeting in someone's home, or in a library, or in someone's barn? Is it that we're spoiled and have to have all the modern comforts such as AC/heat, padded pews, etc? Or is it pride in competing with all the denominational churches around us? Do we think that without a church building, we're not going to draw visitors from the community? Isn't the "gospel" the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16)?

Listen, I honestly believe that larger congregations (those numbering 50+) might have more reason to own a building. After all, it's difficult to squeeze that many people into someone's house, or even a public place such as a conference room in a library. When a congregation grows and needs a larger area in which to meet and they can afford a building, I think that there is even a degree of prudence in purchasing or constructing a "church building." But small congregations don't need to be going into debt for a church building when they could easily fit into someone's home, or a public place. I'm not saying it's wrong for small congregations to own a building. In my opinion, it's just not a wise expenditure.

Think about it. How much money goes into the church building? There is the mortgage, the electric and water bills, the lawn care, the yearly maintenance, and so on. What ends up happening so often is that most of the money collected in the weekly contribution goes to maintaining the building. Money that could be better spend on supporting an evangelist, or aiding needy saints is instead funneled into a building that isn't necessary in the first place. There are small congregations that cannot afford to hire a preacher because their money is tied up in a building. Among some of these smaller congregations that HAVE preachers, the preacher is asked to seek outside support (from other congregations) because they can't afford to provide full-support...and yet a sizable percentage of their weekly contribution is going towards the maintenance of a building. Churches that could be paying to place articles and ads in the local newspaper and engaging in all kinds of evangelism projects are unable to do so because they feel this need to OWN their own building...when they could easily meet in someone's home.

But listen, it's not just small congregations that are under the microscope here. Larger congregations are often guilty of the same problem. With larger congregations, however, their obsession is not in having a building--they can easily afford the building; their problem is that they want to have an extravagant building. Chandeliers, ornate trim, flowers and fake plants around the pulpit, outrageously expensive sound systems and recording equipment, offices for the preacher and elders, libraries and media rooms, expensive landscaping outside, digital signs and displays, high-arched ceilings and steeples, and the list goes on and on and on. Sometimes I think it's as if some brethren have the mindset of our Catholic friends.

Brethren, don't you think that sometimes we go a little too far? Aren't there better ways to spend the Lord's money? There are preachers out there in need of support. There are Christians in need. There are all kinds of evangelism projects that, with a little financing, could greatly impact the community--CD projects, newsletters, mailers, ads, billboards, flyers, etc.

Again, I'm not saying that it's wrong for a church to own its own building. But I do think that we need to stop obsessing over church buildings. Church buildings are nice to have, but they're not necessary. They are convenient and comfortable, but that doesn't make them a "must-have." And again, we need to stop using our church buildings as a substitute for the gospel of Christ.

Hopefully you can make some sense of this.

End rant.