As a pastor of a church that is getting close to opening a new sanctuary, I’ve had to do some thinking about whether a congregation should even seek to have its own building. Maybe that sounds like a silly question, because you’ve assumed that it is the goal of all churches to own their own facility. But that would not be true. Many churches, especially new church plants, do not have their own buildings, and some have no intention of getting one.
What are some of the arguments against having a building? Some point out that the word “church” technically refers to the body of believers, not to a building, and that the New Testament never commands that we construct our own buildings. Others note that the early church did not meet in large buildings, but mostly in private homes. Still others will mention that buildings cost a lot of money – both to purchase and to maintain – and that this money could better be spent in other Kingdom-oriented ways.
There is truth to all of these points, but they don’t persuade me against having a building. Below are three reasons that a congregation, assuming it has the necessary resources, should consider having its own building.
1. A building gives a church visibility in its community.
Very often I will meet new people, and they will ask me what I do. I tell them I am a pastor. They ask what church. I tell them New Life Presbyterian in Yorktown. On many occasions, the next comment out of their mouths is, “Oh yeah, that building that sits up on the hill!” Sometimes new people will come to visit our church, and I will often ask how they learned about us. Very often the response is something like, “I drive by it all the time on my way to work, and decided I would give it a try.” A building serves many purposes, of course, not the least of which is a 24/7 advertisement to the community that you exist.
2. A building eliminates obstacles to the flourishing of a congregation. It is true that buildings require lots of money, constant attention and careful maintenance, but congregations without buildings have their own burdens to deal with: weekly setting up and tearing down everything necessary to conduct a worship service; finding a place to meet for mid-week activities; facing the possibility of having to move to another location for whatever reason. While some point to the growing house church movement in China as an example of why buildings are unnecessary, Kevin DeYoung points out in his book, Why We Love the Church, that the Chinese house church movement is actually an “organizational nightmare” (p. 180) and that Christian leaders in China are praying “for the day of owning their own church building and moving toward a large church model.” (p. 182). This is not a criticism of the Chinese church – just an acknowledgment that church without a building might not be as glamorous as some think.
3. A building gives emphasis to the Biblical doctrine of place. When God created Adam and Eve, he put them in a specific place (the garden). When God delivered Israel from Egypt, he announced his intention to lead them to a place (land of Canaan). When Israel finally settled in their land, God wanted them to worship him in a specific place (the temple). And when Jesus returns, he’s coming back to establish his reign in a place (the new earth). The church is not a collection of ghostly souls that simply float through the air of our communities; instead, the church is a collection of redeemed, but fully embodied, creatures. And one thing true of the body is that it needs a place – to stand, sit, sleep, eat and yes, even to worship. In other words, “buildings matter because bodies matter.”
Certainly it’s possible for a congregation to overspend on a building, or to build at the wrong time. And by no means am I suggesting that a church without a building is less useful in God’s kingdom than a church with a building. But buildings are good, and we as a congregation can’t wait to enter into our new sacred space.