A New Perspective On Church Buildings

This is not a call to do away with church buildings. They are scripturally justified on the grounds of expediency. Since God prescribes regular meetings of the whole congregation for the purposes of worship and edification, a facility is required but not specified. That is, scripture does not mandate the location or the means by which it is procured: renting, buying, the home of a member, even the Temple precincts in early church history.

The advantages of an owned building are obvious, especially to those who have rented: control of schedule; not sharing space with others; storage and ready availability of equipment (song books, computers, copiers, Lord’s supper items, Bibles, lecterns); matters of convenience (cry rooms/rockers; bathrooms; pew “bird nests”); visibility in the community; a climate controlled baptistery; etc. Of course, such advantages come with drawbacks: expense, maintenance, insurance, government regulations, banking and real estate requirements.

But owning a building can impact us on a deeper, negative level. Consider:

1. Emotional attachment: Some brethren become defensive, almost possessive, of the building because their family helped build it, fund it or attended there for many years. The building becomes an extension of the family. Further, like any other material object, we can attach memories to it that exceed its true value (where we went to Bible class as a child, were baptized, met our spouse, raised our children, heard renowned preachers, etc.). And heaven help the poor soul who sits in Sister Crotchety’s pew.

2. Substitute for the church: Even though we may understand that the church is the people, we may fall into the trap of mixing the identity of the two. Ask yourself: Where do we see each other the most? Answer: At the building. We can spend upward of six hours per week with each other at the building. Simple conditioning can link us as “the people we go to church with” rather than a family that shares a meaningful part of our life.

3. Routinized faith: Worst of all, it is easy to confuse connection with a building for true spirituality. “Attendance” may become our objective; we may reduce the Lord’s day to “going to church” or “checking the box.” “Worship” may evoke images of nice clothes, coiffed hair, the scent of cologne, listening to a sermon, chatting with others and Sunday lunch at our favorite restaurant. True faith is Christ-centered, not building-centered.

So, how long has it been since we last gathered at the building? For us at Centreville, it has been six weeks since the building was removed as a point of focus. What can we learn from this? That we have deep ties that go beyond physical proximity. That we are still a congregation, even without congregating. That we still crave the things that really matter: worship, fellowship, serving each other, communication. While the building makes some things easier, may it never become a substitute for the true substance of being God’s family here on earth.