Church facilities are public places for corporate worship and ministry that establish presence in a local community. A facility creates a sense of stability and permanence. However, facilities are not a panacea. We have heard countless times the failed “Field of Dreams” philosophy. You know it…Build it and they will come…or maybe…Rent it and they will come. It worked for Kevin Costner in a corn field—not so much for churches.
I am not suggesting that facilities don’t help you fulfill your vision and mission. They do. However, I am saying that using a facility as your magic pixie dust to church growth is severely flawed. You’re dreaming if you think a building can produce long-term numerical and spiritual growth in a congregation.
So what are some of the things a church building cannot do? Buildings do not preach sermons. Buildings do not create relationships. Buildings do not reach people. Buildings do not save people. These items are obvious. Here are three common misconceptions about church buildings.
1. A building stimulates growth
If your church is not already growing, a new building is not likely going to jump-start growth. People think, “If we build it, then they will come.” If we build it, then the building is going to create excitement. But if your growth is not the primary factor for increasing your physical space, then building or relocating will not stimulate your growth. We have actually seen instances where the opposite has happened and the expansion initiative has put the church in decline, because the rationale was wrong.
2. A building improves members’ giving to ministry
Again, if the congregation is not already giving and living a life of generosity, then a facility project will not get them to become regular contributors. You might do a campaign and you might have some people start giving to the project, but that is different than developing a congregation of generous givers as a lifestyle.
3. A building motivates people to minister
A building project will not compel people outward. If you build a building or lease a shopping center prior to establishing a culture of evangelism, outreach and service, then all your people will move inward. Apart from an existing culture of outreach, new buildings push people into a holy huddle. A new building can promote a sense of “arrival” and a tendency to cocoon in the new digs. I was part of a fast growing church back in the 1990s that had an incredible culture of service, ministry, and outreach…then…we built a lovely new sanctuary with pews and a permanent sound system…meaning no weekly setup required in the gym, to name just one change the new building caused. The culture of the church quickly became one of a country club (with “member privileges”) instead of a community of missionaries to their culture.
It’s important – even if and when your church does obtain a building of its own – that it maintains its outreach, volunteer, efforts, and spirit of outreach within the community. This is how a building fuels the mission of a church instead of impeding it.
How does your church use its building as a tool to assist your church’s vision and mission?
Editorial Note: This article is an excerpt from the new book by Tim Cool and Jim Tomberlin, Church Locality: New Rules for Church Buildings in a Multisite, Church Planting, and Giga-Church World