The “Successful” Church and Facilities

Last week I submitted a post that began asking the question, “what is a successful church?”  We noted that the determining factors that our culture (even our American church culture) uses to define a “successful” church, may not exactly be the same determining factors that God uses.  We want to be a church that is successful in God’s eyes, not in the eyes of the man, yet we must be aware that there will be a tendency (albeit of our flesh) to drift into the current of culture’s definition of “success”.

I began last week by introducing the first of three posts dealing with what a successful church is not.  A successful church is not one that is large, or small.  The number of people in attendance bears little or no effect on whether or not a church is “successful” in God’s eyes.  I sat in a meeting earlier this week with pastors from around our area, and the leader of this association of churches lamented that “most of our churches in Gwinnett and around the country are failing”.  I agreed with his assessment, and propose that the answer is not found by turning to a greater emphasis on drawing a larger crowd (for more on this argument, see last Wednesday’s post).

Today, I want us to tackle the second of the three things that our culture says defines a successful church….facilities.

Church Growth experts will tell you that one of the single greatest evangelistic tools of a church is its building.  Build a nice big building, and it will draw people in.

And you know what….it works!  It doesn’t work all the time, but unfortunately the American church has proven that we can tap into the consumerism of Americans by building a nice impressive facility, and it will draw a crowd.  If it didn’t work, you wouldn’t see multi-million dollar building campaigns left and right.  Build it and they will come!

For example, a church in Texas recently announced a $130 million building campaign.  It is touted as the largest church building campaign ever in America.  When the architectural renderings were unveiled a couple of months ago, part of the project included a huge, glass-encased concourse that will overlook the city in which it is located.  One of the reasons given for this expensive ornamental feature, is that “it will be a great evangelistic tool as it draws in people from the downtown streets”.

Maybe it will.  Maybe it won’t.  Regardless, I think the American church in general has a great deal that it will need to answer for one day.  When you consider the millions of dollars that churches spend on facilities compared to the paltry sum we give to world missions, we’ve got a lot to answer for…and something tells me that we don’t want our answer to be, “well, we built a really cool glass-encased concourse”.

Will large impressive buildings make a church large?  Maybe so, but again, as we said last week, Jesus didn’t call us to simply draw a large crowd….He told us to make disciples, and that can and should be done in both large and small churches.  It’s not about the number of folks under one roof on any given Sunday.  It’s about whether or not we’re being faithful to the mission of God for the glory of God.

There may be some readers who are from larger churches, so I feel the need to assuage your fears that I am anti-big church.  I’m not anti-big church.  I’m not pro-small church.

Parenthetically though, I am anti-big debt, and I am anti-“putting facilities before things like evangelism, discipleship, and missions – you know – disciple-making ministries”); but I’m not anti-big church.  I’m pro-church, and anti-“focusing on the size”.

Another thing I need address is that we (the American church that is) build large and impressive church facilities not only because we want to be “large”, but because we want to be “impressive”.  Here’s where my flesh will struggle.  I find it easy to condemn the pride of just wanting to be “big for the sake of being big”, while I fall prey to the prideful desire to be “impressive”.

Honest confession time:  I want folks to like me and be impressed with me, and I want folks to like our church and be impressed with it.  That’s the work of my flesh…my sin nature, appealing to my prideful heart.  A church that meets in a trailer is not impressive, and a church without a facility at all is not impressive.

But I must constantly “put to death the deeds of the flesh” (Romans 8:13), including its whispers of the need to “impress” people.

God has not called us to be impressive, but to be faithful and obedient.  He didn’t say, go and build large and impressive buildings so that you can be “large” and be seen as “impressive”.  He said go and make disciples, and since the Bible says nothing about a church needing a facility in order to accomplish that, then a church can and should be about the business of “making disciples of all nations” whether they are in a trailer, or in a mega-cathedral, or in a gym, or under a tin roof, or whether they have no facility whatsoever.

What do you think?  Have I missed the boat?  Why do you think there is such an emphasis on the physical building in churches?

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3 thoughts on “The “Successful” Church and Facilities

  1. I agree. I have been a part of several churches that were in building fund mode. I even heard one pastor say that he was getting bored with the current success of the church and wanted a new faith challenge. So, he decided that we needed to fund a new building. Let me stress that this building was not needed space. It was wanted space. We were then challenged to get second jobs or go without vacations in order to do our part to see “God’s” vision fulfilled and that He would reward us accordingly. Then a parade of people began to share how giving sacrificially to the building fund had resulted in God giving them their dream job for 3 times their prior salary, or the boat they always wanted, or a family trip over seas…you get the point. It was a sales meeting.

    I have no problem re-organizing my life to meet God’s purpose when He really calls us to do something. But to keep a pastor from being bored, I have to draw a line.

    I believe that our church is impressive in its simple love for God, His Word and His people. I do not feel that I have to be on guard with my brothers and sisters. But rather I am safe within the family where God has placed me. And I am consistently challenged to pursue Him more and with deeper conviction. People are in my life who refuse to let me lag behind or give up on anything God is calling me to do or be. The leadership does the unexpected, the difficult, the counter-cultural not because it’s hip and cool to be that way, but because they believe they have heard the voice of God and they don’t move until they are sure of it.

  2. Shawna – its amazing our how prideful sin nature can rationalize pretty much anything.

    I just never, ever, ever, want to be in a position to have to decide whether to bail on a financial obligation to a missionary we support or to bail on a financial obligation to a banker.

    I don’t trust my flesh enough to put myself in a position to make the right decision.

    I’ve heard the argument before….build as much as you can, as fast as you can, and the cost of interest from a loan will be offset by the savings from not having to pay higher prices for building materials in the future because of inflation. I wonder how many churches bought that line and are singing the blues now?

    Piper talks about having a wartime mentality. If a war is brewing, I’m not gonna build a home for my family that is going to obligate all my time and money…there’s a war going in that requires more of both. Same is true for a church. We’ve been give the MISSION OF GOD, and we can’t obligate a ton of resources (time, focus, energy, etc.), to build and maintain a facility – we’ve got to build, deploy, and resource the army to get fighting.

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