Recently, I ran across a story in an on-line magazine about a couple in Kyloe, Northumberland, who purchased an old church building and turned it into a home. The article stated, “If they had not purchased the old church, who knows what would have happened to it, as it was in very bad shape.”
This is not the first time someone has renovated or re-purposed a church building for something other than a house of worship. A few months ago, while on a vision tour Toronto, I saw first hand numbers of church buildings being using as businesses or warehouses. In Port Arthur, Texas, the building where once the Procter Baptist Church worshiped, now houses the Buu Mon Buddhist Temple.
What is your response when you hear about stories like these? Is your response, similar to that of the writer of the Internet article, or do you feel a sense of sadness? Are you alarmed and even angered? I would suggest that we see this as a wake-up call, a prophetic word – a word we need to hear and take to heart.
On the surface, there is something alarming about the closure of a church. Our denomination (Southern Baptists) has seen a net loss of 600 churches each year over the past ten years. We should be alarmed; but we should also ask ourselves some sobering questions.
First, can the church be church without property and buildings? In addition, and more importantly, what it means to be the church during a time of radical, demographic change.
As strange as this may sound, the loss of buildings and property could actually be a blessing in disguise. Let me explain. In our American church culture, many churches and denominations have developed an unhealthy identification with, and desire for, buildings and locations. In these cases, the loss of a building and property could actually free the congregation to discover their identity as the Body of Christ. It could also lead them to discover how to do what Christ called them to do in the home and the market place, and ultimately help them become a church without walls!
Second, we must honestly look at the role of structures in how we worship God and fulfill the great commission. Do our buildings help us or hinder us? Historically, we understand how churches began to build structures and to call them “houses of worship.” Inherently, there is nothing wrong with churches gathering in buildings for worship and Bible study.
The truth is, more often than not, the focus on building elaborate structures has negatively influenced the mission of the Church. Church history reveals repeatedly, that when there is an inordinate investment of resources in structures and buildings, the missional activity of God’s people slowed or halted altogether.
Finally, the most serious question we must face in one of stewardship. The Church in American spends millions of dollars on buildings and property each year. Is this good stewardship of the resources God has placed in our hands? What if, rather than spending most of our money on ourselves, we spent our resources finding a solution to human trafficking, discovering a way to end the tragedy of 26,000 children dying everyday from preventable causes?
Stained windows are beautiful and can be a source of inspiration for worship; but they can also block our vision of the ugliness, pain and depravity of the outside world – precisely the object of God’s redemptive love and the mission field of the church.
What if, rather than a “once-a-week” house of worship for us, our church buildings were transformed into missional outreach posts, designed to have a 24/7 impact in the community?
As I said in an earlier blog, the new direction of my Encourage articles is not to make you feel good, but to challenge you, and if necessary, to make you uncomfortable by asking difficult questions – questions about your purpose and God’s call upon your life!