We Don’t Need a Church Building to Encounter God or Enjoy Spiritual Community
So far, we’ve looked at the Old Testament model for church—of building, paid clergy, and tithes—which we still follow today.
Then we considered how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament and looked at how the early church functions in the New Testament, considering their practices and detailing what church shouldn’t be today. Last, we looked at the essential components for a New Testament-style church.
Let’s now consider what must change in our churches today to better align with the New Testament narrative and early church practices.
We’ve already touched on this when we said that through Jesus, we have a new perspective on the temple (church building), priests (ministers and staff), and tithes and offerings (church finances).
Do We Need a Church Building?
Let’s look deeper into this idea of a church building.
Who needs a building? The early church met in people’s homes and public places. Why can’t we do the same today? Think of all the money we’d save and hassles we could avoid if we removed the shackles of owning and maintaining a church facility.
Not only are our church structures exorbitantly expensive, they’re also underutilized most of the time.
At best, one of today’s churches enjoys full usage for only two hours of each week. That’s 1.2 percent of the time. This means that for 98.8 percent of each week the building is underutilized.
Yes, the office staff uses a tiny part of the space during the workweek, and smaller meetings occur some evenings. But these activities occupy only a small portion of the church building. That’s a lot of wasted space.
The prime motivation for these large, but underused, facilities is for a one-hour church meeting each Sunday.
A Wrong Perspective
At one church I visited, the pastor in his pre-sermon prayer pleaded with God to supply a facility for them. “You know God, how much we need a building,” he begged. “Please provide it for us.”
Although their rented space offered what they needed on Sunday morning and other options provided office space and accommodated their weekly meetings, it appeared that his perspective was that to be a real church they had to have a building.
In a later discussion with one of their church elders I said, “You don’t need a building. You may want one, but you don’t have to have one.”
In most all cases, it costs a church much less to rent space than to own and maintain a building. But even better then renting space for Sunday morning service is to decentralize the church to meet in people’s homes.
Despite this, most every church thinks they need a building.
While owning a building may be convenient and may be a preference, it isn’t a necessity. And sinking mass quantities of money into a church building that goes unused most of the week certainly isn’t being good stewards of God’s resources.
In today’s developed countries churches routinely spend millions of dollars for worship space for people to go to on Sunday morning. The cost of the facility is disproportionately large in comparison to the lifestyle and homes of the congregation.
In another instance, a large, growing suburban church had frequent building fund drives to expand its facility. Though the people enthusiastically supported each expansion plan, one effort met with opposition.
They wanted to raise $1 million to build a ring road around the campus to ease the flow of traffic. One million dollars for a road. It was a hard ask for the people to accept.
Even in developing countries, where the expectations of the church edifice are much more modest, it’s still disproportionate to the lifestyle of the people who will go there. In one developing country, a church constructed the concrete shell for its church building and ran out of money.
For several years, they’ve worshiped in their half-finished space and continually asked for donations to complete its construction. Since the members are poor, they can’t finance the construction themselves.
They look to the generosity of those outside their community to complete the building.
Instead of focusing all his attention on his congregation and local community, the pastor diverts some of his time to solicit donations from those abroad.
Church Buildings are Expensive
Regardless of where we live in the world, our church buildings are expensive compared to the lifestyles of most of the people who go there. To have a building, we must either buy or build.
This often requires borrowing money and paying off a mortgage. And if a church falls behind in their monthly payments, the lender may have no choice but to foreclose on the facility. In this instance, no one wins, and the reputation of Jesus’s church is tarnished.
But expenses don’t stop with the acquisition of a building, whether bought or built. The ongoing costs add up. For starters, there are utilities, maintenance, and insurance. And we do all this so we can go to a place to have a one-hour encounter with God on Sunday morning.
Maintaining a church building is costly and does little to advance the kingdom of God. Remember, through Jesus, our bodies are God’s temple.
We don’t need to go to a building to go to church so we can connect with God. We take church with us wherever we go—or at least we should.
We must rethink the importance we put on our church buildings and replace it with a people-first perspective.
Next week we’ll look at church staff.
Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.
Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.