Why do churches still have buildings (and will we)?

church ruin

Picture: Church buildings come and go, but the work of Jesus keeps moving.

At our Council meeting not too long ago, a person offered a question, “Why do we have buildings anyway?” No one followed up on the question. (Maybe they didn’t even hear it). But I keep thinking about it, since I have raised quite a bit of money for buildings in my day and such a question makes me wonder.

Right now we are considering new buildings. I think questioning whether we should have any makes sense. There are doubts worth voicing:

  • Our present buildings are not full, really. (Which means we want to be fuller).
  • They are expensive and we don’t have that much money. (Which means we will need to come up with more money).
  • They are a commitment we have to maintain. (Which means we are committed and will maintain them).

Buildings imply that you have a church that is “open for business” – the business of including more people in our life and work. We need room to grow; we need a workshop. Buildings imply that we share enough money to do big things – our people understand what it takes to get things done and they pay for it. Buildings imply that our people have a common life and purpose that motivates them to stick with it – buying a building or making a long-term lease means you are doing something that is going to take a while.

We don’t have yesterday’s building strategy

We obviously have a new strategy that is not like yesteryear. We are not trying to build the most imposing building on the village green. The religion of capitalism, symbolized by Comcast, overtook that spot in the Philly region years ago. On the contrary, we obtain utilitarian buildings that are just enough to do what we want to do as a whole congregation. A good half of what we do happens in our homes or in some other public places.

Some people say that we should just skip the expensive together-space altogether and just do things out of our homes. That strategy has worked great for the Chinese church. Ex-evangelicals are writing the latest books about “house churches” that don’t have big meeting places. We listen to these thinkers and often look like their teaching, but we still think most Americans think Christians “GO to church,” not ARE the church. We need a public space to meet the public. What’s more, we want to be a village, so we have a village space. Plus, we DO things, like art, music, plays, advocacy meetings, classes, children’s work, counseling. We need some space to do that 24/7, not just when the baby is sleeping or when we can pay someone else for the space they own.

Our buildings

Right now, Circle of Hope

  • owns two buildings for the church to use (Frankford Ave and Marlton Pike)
  • leases one 24/7 long-term (South Broad)
  • leases time at a building (North Broad)
  • owns two buildings for Circle Thrift (Frankford Ave)
  • leases space year to year for Circle Thrift (South Broad).
  • Gwen and I own two buildings for Circle Counseling, and counselors use a space at Marlton Pike.

Tomorrow, our new temporary team for solving some space needs will be looking for a 24/7 space for North Broad and looking to buy or lease a space somewhere in the Northwest (possibly with a thrift store attached) for our new congregation. Our new Good Business ideas also need space and bring a new possibility for combinations with church planting. We have big ideas for committed people who want to make a big impact.

I think you can be assured that nothing is going to happen too fast, though, since the biggest factor in the process of buying or leasing a building is whether our people really want to do it. In the past, they have said YES. But, right now, they are essentially saying NO, since we are not succeeding in meeting our modest goals for our Common Fund. We thought we could engage enough new givers this year to raise our income 10%. We have regular attenders, even covenant members, who do not give ANYTHING in a year! They have not all changed their ways so far and new and regular givers have not increased our income, either. So, as far as I am concerned, that means “put on the brakes” — a lot of people are not on the bus yet!

I assume they have reasons for not being on the bus. I hope the biggest reason is they do not understand the bus or they don’t know where it is going very well. I can’t imagine not wanting to support the unique Circle of Hope movement! Maybe this post helps.

Comments(2)

  1. Kyle Zieba says

    Thank you for putting these thoughts out here for all of us to contemplate and pray about.

  2. Mark Mumbauer says

    The recent Philly LDS temple completion, and it’s subsequent free tours (one month, act quick!) had me thinking on this same realm Rod. 61,466 square feet of opulence, sheesh. I’m glad the spaces we as CoH occupy look and feel more like us and our communities. I am a sucker for free stuff, so I’ll probably take a tour of their new space, and who knows, I may meet the next cell member there!

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