I Need I Need! Or Security Blankets That Come With A Mortgage

Whenever I fill out a survey about how money I make, I fit into the first (aka lowest) range listed. So you know the economy is bad if I can afford to buy a house. And I did.

It’s only logical that in the economic crisis where jobs are lost, homes are foreclosing and vacant business equal the number of occupied ones that churches too are in trouble. They aren’t exempt from the collective tightening up. Many can’t afford to pay for the very building they do all of their business in.

If a church hits hard times programs, materials and staff are all disposable. It’s not ideal, but they can be reduced. However churches with their own building can’t cut that cost out – short of moving and trying to sell a very particular piece of property that has little alternative use save religious purposes.

In these times we ask what do we really need?

This is what’s happening, as in 2007 eight churches went in foreclosure, but  in 2008 that number skyrocketed to just shy of 200, and from what I know that number hasn’t been going down. I think the economic crises has shown us that we got a little ahead of ourselves and a little too confident. In retrospect we see we piled on the amenities that were maybe a little self-aggrandizing.

When I think back upon the churches I’ve been apart of and mentally roam the halls of the campus, it makes me wonder “what do we really need as a church?” Maybe it’s time to wonder aloud Do we need 10,000 square feet?*

I think many buildings are dreams come true for churches. Maybe better stated they are our dreams come true. Having a nice building is comforting, it helps us feel more legitimate, and if we’re really honest the building can help us feel like God approves of whatever we’re doing (good circumstances can seem to equal God’s favor and blessing). We may also find the thing we made for God is actually a little more about us.

I want to be clear I’m not condemning all church buildings. I do think the church has tremendous power when it’s underground and less like a bureaucratic organization, but it’d be silly to say no churches should have a building.

Instead, I think it could be worthwhile to re-evaluate what churches need. What is useful? What do we gain from these spaces? How much are we collectively willing to pay for a meeting place? And maybe hardest of all – why do we really want high-tech, modern spacious buildings for our church?

Do you think some churches went overboard (no need to name names)? What do churches need in terms of a meeting space? Or maybe breaking it down, what does your church need?

*Note I don’t throw out the number as a way to be legalistic, as there is no exact number that if you go over it’s now too big. But let’s be honest 10,000 square feet is a lot of space to sit around and talk about God. And that’s half the size of the church building I attended as a child.

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19 Responses to I Need I Need! Or Security Blankets That Come With A Mortgage

  1. You make a good point here Charlie. While I pastor a church that just bought it first building ($175k) we are in no way extravagant. However, the meeting room is too small (which we knew when we moved in). Now there is a move afoot to build an addition. I am not comfortable with it for several reasons, the biggest being the debt it will incur. We have 5 acres…let’s do some creative thinking to tide us over until we can raise the $150-200k needed to build. Even that is not extravagant. just a pole barn type. For your question: that really needs no answer when so many churches have to foreclose or sell because they cannot afford their new building. It is heart-breaking to see God’s name dragged through the mud over this. So many thoughts…so little time and space. 🙂

    • I’d go with your gut in regards to the debt. As you know money just messes with things so bad. You may even want to help your congregation wonder why they want to build something bigger – maybe not why but how they can best approach it where their egos and pride aren’t involved. Then again I’m drawing on my experience, where church buildings become bragging rights.

  2. David says:

    It’s a good question. First we are not sitting around talking about God at my church. We are worshiping God in Spirit and in truth. Each Sunday we are packed to capacity – we usually can’t fit anymore in if we tried. During the musical worship the kids press in from the front row to the altar. We have 3 class rooms, all packed.

    On Mondays, we are closed and cleaning gets done, light bulbs are changed, sound system is maintained. Tuesday is deliverance and healing ministry from 10 am to 9 pm. It is the same for Sozo (inner healing) Thursday day it is worship practice, and Friday I do class. Sure during the day it’s a little slower with a couple of Bible studies and lots of meetings for staff (most of which is unpaid).

    Oh yeah and we do conferences 8 times a year, and we are packed to the gills.

    Did I mention that there are home-groups, outreach and ministry collections for the poor and needy, benevolence meetings and more? Oh yeah, and the building never had a loan, it was purchased cash.

    So what’s the problem? Religion is my suspicion. I would say that our church with all its warts is simply going after God. It is much less about a performance, and more about what God is doing in our midst. I find it interesting that people drive an hour or more to be at our little church in a town of 15,000. It’s miles from strip malls and the like.

    God is there, and people are thirsty. This isn’t the south where there is a church on every street corner, not even close. It is not the west coast were the potential to reach 1,000,000 people within 20 or 30 miles is possible.

    I guess the answer is this: if we are just there for an hour or so on Sunday morning, why not rent? I used to set up at a school each week, and that was tough. In our case, I think we make the best use of the building, and I used to belong to one that had 3 services each Sunday so they didn’t have to build a bigger place.

    • I think the difference from your church (at least how you present, you sound quite proud [the healthy kind]) and many others is that it is much more God and community focused instead of inwardly focused. Lots of churches are performance based, and I’d even say out of necessity for their size – but it’s worth investigating who they exist for and what their purpose would be.

  3. JamesBrett says:

    where i live, having a church building is a sign of credibility. no church worth its salt would meet in someone’s home or under a mango tree. you’d be hard pressed to convince a group of christians in tanzania they don’t need a building in order to be a church.

    but i still try.

  4. Joe Birdwell says:

    We had 5 different giant church complexes pop up all in a row on one road here in town. I suppose that if you want to attract the $$$ then your building had to be bigger than their starter mansions.

  5. John M says:

    The “ekklesia” , the church, has nothing to do with a building. The holy of holies is in us now, not in a building. In the USA, in my opinion, most, or at least many “churches”, the types that meet on Sundays, are severely flawed, sleepy, just about dead. Not sure why, but some of the old models and ways are stuck to folks like glue.

  6. Larry Hughes says:

    Churches and it’s occupants have to live on a budget just like the rest of us unsaved ones.
    So far only the government can legally spend more than they take in and get away with it with out fear of foreclosure.

    Like David’s report, the churches must live with in their means and budget their money. It is nice to go overboard and have an elegant church for the members but hey, lets keep it real and not bankrupt the church. I do recall mentioning in the bible in a parable how some utilized what money they had been given and generated more revenue for the land owner. In a sense it was saying to me one must be frugal but wise in money matters.

    In these tough economic times, I can hope for more tents popping up for revivals or a church in an abandoned Michael’s crafts store. That actually happened here in Cincy., Oh.

    What really matters is when ones come together to give praise to God and worship Him.
    It can be any where. On a rock, in a boat, or by the sea.

    • to be honest Larry if churches can barely stay afloat financially putting the majority of their money towards building costs (be it rent or mortgage), it may be worthwhile to consider totally different options. I’m not going to say they must downsize or debuilding, because I’m not in that community, but its a conversation worth having. It definitely feels nice to have a cool elegant church, but then again we exist for the body of Jesus, not the other way around. it’s a delicate balance, to be sure.

  7. Ike says:

    Francis Chan makes a good point about “church” in this very short clip.

  8. Amy says:

    My old church was trying to build a $17 million facility–the Holy Spirit told them to do it. But then the people weren’t giving enough for the project because of their lack of faith. The senior pastor left over the whole thing, split the church…but, hey, now that the congregation shrank everyone fits into the church. No need for a new building….and they still own the land.

    • Chris says:

      Perfect solution 😉

      • holy crap how enormous is $17 million?!! I mean really holy crap!

        Wow the people aren’t religious enough so I’m taking my business elsewhere!!! I’ll admit I’ve fallen into this – working as a counselor I’ll occasionally say screw it I only want to work with the clients who want to change – and I realize that my whole job is to nurture maturity and foster relationships that lead to change. I don’t need to preach to choir – it is the sick who need a doctor.

        By the way “good” story – bad circumstances but ironic/funny resolution.

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