Theologically, I think we can all agree that “church” and “church buildings” are not synonymous terms. Just like you, I know the church isn’t a building. I know churches can thrive without a building.
But that’s only half the story.
Your community identifies your church with your building. The unchurched people around you aren’t making theological conclusions about the nature of the church. When they hear the name of your church, it’s the building that comes to mind.
Plus, the church must gather somewhere – whether it’s Sunday morning, Wednesday night or a ministry event you host. The very people who always note that we don’t need buildings eventually realize they’d like a building to do certain ministries.
Your building matters. Even dying churches have them. In fact, dying churches likely have more building than they’re using. With that in mind, let me give you four reasons your buildings matters as you’re trying to replant a dying church.
1. Your building represents something to your community.
You need to make it a priority to figure out what your building is saying to your community. For example:
- Does it look unused? You may be sending the message your church is insignificant – or even closed.
- Do you have chains and signs that say “Do Not Enter” throughout your property? You might be telling your community you don’t want them in your church.
- Does it look spooky? Maybe you’re telling your community that church is scary.
None of these are messages any church wants to communicate. No matter what – even if your facilities look great – they’re telling your community something. If you want your building to work for you, rather than against you, you need to figure out what it’s saying.
That’s why I think it’s important to have someone you respect, and who will be impartial, to take a look at your building and let you know what your facilities communicate to them. Be clear with the person what kind of feedback would be helpful. Encourage him or her (or better yet him and her, to get the perspective of both men and women) to be thorough, gathering insights about both the inside and outside.
2. Buildings can be tools for ministry.
We don’t gather as much as we did when I was a kid, but we still gather, usually on Sunday morning. And when you gather, you need a place to do so. It’s where you host Bible studies and vacation Bible school. You can certainly gather without a building of your own, but a building helps.
It’s also the base of your ministry operations, an important beachhead into the community. Your building isn’t just for corporate worship; it needs to be a site for ongoing ministry in your community.
In Reclaiming Glory, I told the story of my experience with Wornall Road Baptist Church in Kansas City. When I first arrived, the building sat empty most of the week. One of the most important steps of replanting the church was to change that. We hosted multiple church plants in the building. Several nonprofits that were helping the community called it home. In time, every room was full. The parking lot was regularly packed. For the first time in a long time, the community saw the church as a living congregation, not something that was dead.
If you have vacant rooms in your church, use them. Convert them into birthday rooms that people in your community can use to host birthday parties. Open your kitchens to host family reunions. Invite a nonprofit that’s doing great work in your neighborhood to use office space in your building. You’re only limited by your creativity.
3. Taking care of your building is a matter of good stewardship.
I know the temptation. You don’t have the money to fix your facilities, so you just let everything go. But it doesn’t get any better. In fact, the situation will get worse – and more costly.
We need to be good stewards of our buildings. Communities can be positively impacted by church buildings. Your building is worth investing in because it’s a ministry tool. Often, I hear church people say they want to avoid putting money into a building so they can invest more in people. That’s a false dichotomy. If you’re using your building for ministry, spending money on it isn’t just a matter of bricks and paint; it’s about people. It’s good stewardship to invest money in a building that helps you reach and disciple people.
4. Deficient buildings can be hazardous and impediments to non-believers.
If you don’t take care of your building, not only will it not attract non-believers in your community, but it actually will repel them. I remember one church I entered where, once inside, you were immediately hit with strong stench. You couldn’t ignore it. I was told the church had a problem with the dishwasher and couldn’t fix it. But understand this, if this is your church, you must fix it, even if it means you need to buy a new one. If you’re in the building a couple of hours a week, maybe you’ll get used to it. A guest will not – and they won’t return even if your preaching knocks it out of the park and the music could win a Grammy.
Initially, as you’re replanting a church, the two most important elements of your building will be your restrooms and your children’s area. Your restrooms need to be clean and handicapped accessible. Your children’s area must be clean and safe. You don’t need a bunch of fancy toys. It’s more important that you present an inviting, clean environment than to have a room full of flea-market toys.
Also, watch out for places in your building that can be dangerous, such as spots that don’t meet the fire code or broken steps where people can trip. The gospel should be dangerous; your church shouldn’t be!
Your church building isn’t the most important part of your church’s replanting, but it is important – likely more important than you realize. As a good steward, use it to the best of your ability as a tool to reach and disciple people.
Published May 25, 2022