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When Bill Gates Joins Your Church

What would you do if Bill Gates became a member of your church? Rev Magazine asked 1700 protestant churchgoers and ministers what their first priority would be if they received an unexpected financial windfall. The results are interesting:

31% -- Building, Expanding, or Updating their Church Buildings
16% -- Increasing Community Evangelism Activities
12% -- Paying off Debt

18% -- Paying Off Debt
18% -- Increasing Social Programs
17% -- Building, Expanding, or Updating their Church Buildings

In both groups, church buildings are front and center because the debt churches incur is primarily from church buildings. So, 43% of clergy and 35% of churchgoers' primary monetary focus is on church buildings.

I’m not totally against church buildings, but I think we need to re-focus the efforts of church renovations and new church buildings. Churches tend to be the least utilized buildings in the world. The main focus is the Sanctuary which is used once or maybe twice a week for a few hours. Can we call ourselves good stewards while spending most of our money on a building that is only used a few hours a week and primarily only serves the members? In addition, the difficult and long-term fund raising efforts required in building projects leads to an inward focus at the expense of the surrounding community.

I would argue that we need a new brand of church building. Instead of large Sanctuaries that can only be used for a worship service, we need to move towards multi-purpose buildings where the rooms can be used for worship but also a variety of other activities. I think churches should build their facilities to serve as a community center and meet a variety of needs. The church would serve as the community meeting place and truly minister to the diverse needs of each community. This would also completely change the mindset of clergy and members because even building projects would be community centered and focused.


Courtney said…
I totally agree...however, I can also see the some of the other side too. Our church just finished a large re-modeling project to both improve the Sanctuary (in fact we made it small so we could have more room for other more versitile rooms) and the other facilities. What we heard over and over again was that this is God's house and God's house should be in the best shape possible. However, I think that God's house is more than a building, I think God's dwells with the people and not so much in a specific place. However it is also the face of our religious community to the surrounding community.

So, I guess in a very long winded way I agree, but I can see the otherside too.

Happy Thanksgiving!
kumardixit said…

This is a big issue I have been struggling with. Since we just moved into a new facility, the upkeep, maintenance, etc. has been overwhelming. I have changed my view from not doing much to the facility to believing you must expand, and improve. Church attenders/seekers are consumers, and they presentation of your property can be an incredible witness. It is interesting to note that we recently spent/allocated $190,000 on our new property in maintenance improvements. The biggest difference that the community noticed was the repaving of the parking lot. This recieved so much positive comments, where people were feeling it was a good thing we moved into their community.

As a sidebar, we just voted to raise $100,000 for community and mission initiatives which will only benefit the community, not our property or church.

Happy Thanskgiving.
Selin Mariadhas said…
I like the idea of using the church building throughout the week as long as the Santuary is still given some reverence (not that I'm saying you said anything to the contrary). Yeah, it's just a physical room, so maybe I'm being old school, but people still need physical symbols of spiritual matters (hence us celebrating communion).
spo said…
I really liked what Courtney said about making the sanctuary smaller to make space for more multi-purpose rooms. Personally I don't like the idea of having the sanctuary be used as a basketball court during the week (not that you were sujecting that). I do however, like the idea of offering seminars and classes for the community during the week. Other rooms in the building can be used for the basketball court!
This way everyone wins. We have "sacred space" that is used for worship services and to teach health and family relations seminars to the community, and other multi-purpose rooms.
trevan said…
Several have mentioned the idea of sacred space. My question: What makes a space sacred? What makes a space secular?

I think this is where postmodernity is actually helping us come to a better understanding of the spiritual life. It gets rid of the sacred vs spiritual divide and views all of life as being sacred. I personally appreciate this world view and have no problem with playing basketball and worshiping in the same room. Why not? I play video games in the living room, does that mean I can't worship in my living room too?

Courtney and Kumar,

I'm all about using our buildings wisely. If you have a building, make sure it's in good shape and not a dump. I went to a church a while back that stunk, the pews were in disrepair, carpet messed up and it was awful. So, make sure it's in good shape.

I still think we are too building-centered and need to start thinking about how we can best utilize our resources. Granted, that may mean renovating or buying new property which is fine. I just think we need to re-shift our focus from having everyone come to our church building and instead go out into the community.
Richard said…
I hear you Trevan. As the pastor of a church that is about to take on a huge building project, I'm excited. But I also wonder if there is a better way of going about things...

Yet to counter your argument, how many times in recient history have I heard someone express awe and wonder at a classical church structure (mostly Catholic) and say something like, I wish Adventists had a better understanding of beauty and holiness. It seems to me "beauty" is in. Maybe not.

Pray for me as we try to build our church:)
Anonymous said…
This last Thursday after our required Colloquy program (Chapel) at Pacific Union College, I had a student come up and object about the lack of spiritual programs in the church where we hold this program. I had just finished a Town Hall meeting prefaced by a 15-minute report in which I highlighted the spiritual mission of PUC and its focus on Jesus Christ encouraging them to have a lifelong relationship with Jesus. Because the church is the only space on campus where we have enough room for everyone to attend, we have a variety of programs in the church including Student Association election speeches which I don't see any differently than electing conference officers at constituency meeting in the same space, concerts with a variety of music, awards programs, etc. However, the bulk of our programs are traditonal preaching with a speaker and religious music. I told this student that I didn't view the space in the same "Roman Catholic" way that we divide our spiritual and secular lives into partitions. We even have one employee who refuses to come because there might be applause.
I see the space as something that should be used for the building of community which transcends traditional religious programming.

I agree with you, Trevan, that we spend a lot on buildings but I also feel that the building should be beautiful in an architectural sense because our ability to worship can be enhanced by the beauty of where we worship as a community. When I'm in a gothic cathedral, the architecture lifts me to Heaven by the sight lines. I just want to see that space used for more than high church.
Anonymous said…
What about a church that is totally on pilgrimage and instead of purchasing property of any kind raises that $1 million (usual cost of the smallest church facilities) for an endowment to support its mission? That would provide $100,000 a year for mission before there is any giving or fund raising. Worship and all other activities could be conducted in the homes of members in small groups, "the church in your house," just like the New Testament.

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