December 17, 2009
Wrong About Church Buildings: 2
A response to Dan Kimball.
A few weeks ago, pastor and author Dan Kimball posted an interesting entry here about church buildings. In the introduction, he notes that eight years ago he would have said, “Who needs a building? The early church didn’t have buildings, and we don’t need them either!” Today, however, he notes that he was wrong.
I think he still is.
Here is my official response to Dan Kimball.
I recently read your post where you say that you were wrong about church buildings. At first, I was glad to see the title. I’m a house church leader. We used to be a traditional Southern Baptist church—building and all. But that all changed in 2005. Since then, we’ve been meeting in homes and living out the call of God without a building. And that’s why your post troubled me so much.
It is not that I hate buildings. Because we have identified our cause as “Leave the Building,” I often get mistaken for a building-hater, but that is not the case. “Leave the Building” is about removing the things that limit us in our service for God or somehow get in the way of what he is trying to accomplish through us. For me and my church, it was our building.
But it will not be that way for everyone. In fact, traditional churches and building-attending Christians can “leave the building” while still attending a traditional, building-based church.
I want to underscore my respect for you, and I believe we share a deep love for the Body of Christ. I see you as a fellow worker; a brother in Christ. And I am thankful that we have the opportunity to sharpen one another as we both occupy positions of leadership within the Church.
I am writing this because the subject of the necessity of buildings is a crucial topic to discuss all across the Church. You do indeed describe good uses for buildings … but what is good, may not be best – either for your church or for the Body of Christ worldwide. Allow me to explain. After you listed good uses of both your church’s building and others’ (i.e. Compassion International), you made this statement:
“These missional opportunities would not be possible without a building.”
There are three reasons why I think you’re mistaken.
First, being missional involves more than just being nice to people. Having a coffeehouse with free internet is great, it is nice, but it is not missional. Panera offers the same thing, but they’re not missional. The same goes for providing shelter – by itself it is not missional, it is just nice. Being missional is the act of making disciples – that is the mission of the Church as found in Matthew 28:18-21.
Second, you confuse convenience as necessity. This is a common problem with the Church in America. But let’s use “need” appropriately: Compassion International doesn’t need a building in order to help orphans. It may be convenient and even better for the time being, but it is not a necessity. And your church doesn’t need a coffee lounge in order to reach out to college students. It may make it easier, but it is not a necessity. The same goes for helping families displaced by fires. Surely, having a building makes it convenient and much easier to respond, but your church didn’t need a building in order to help.
Third, your building may be preventing you from doing what God really wants from you. Let’s take the wildfire situation as an example. Putting people up in your church is great. Really. But imagine what kind of long-term relationships could have been formed were they taken into houses instead. Imagine the opportunity to really be missional! It may very well be that you actually missed an opportunity on that one all because your “mission” is anchored to your building.
You were right the first time. The early church didn’t need buildings, and neither do we. The fact that many churches think they do need a building is not just a 21st century thing, it is an American thing…a rich thing. Churches around the world manage to be missional, make disciples, and spread the good news, without any building whatsoever. Even more, they are doing it better than churches in the West with buildings. You see, it is not buildings that create a consumer-mentality, it is just the opposite. It is our consumer-mentality that causes us to think we need buildings. Buildings can be great tools, but the Church gets by…no, the Church thrives … every day without them.