If you’ve read this blog much, you might have gathered that I’m pretty conflicted about church buildings. They are the glory and downfall of today’s church. They are often beautiful, historic buildings; they represent God’s presence in communities where that presence is sorely needed. They provide gathering and education space, and a respite for the eye amid the banality of big box stores, industrial parks and cold office towers.
But, darn it, they are so expensive to keep open! With their suspicious wiring, high ceilings and leaky windows, their maintenance is more than the average shrinking congregation can handle.
Do you ever wish your little congregation could just meet in a cozy space with a fireplace and a tiny rent payment?
Some people say the future of the church is in small group gatherings, often in homes. I don’t just mean house churches; small groups are also part of many large church ministries, where groups gather in homes to foster more intimate spiritual growth. I’ve often wished I could be part of a church that had a small group ministry. And I’ve heard of new chuch developments meeting in homes and schools without the encumbrance of a mortgage payment.
But there is a hitch to the fantasy of being the church without a building. Here’s an article from the Wall Street Journal by Sarah Pulliam Bailey (online editor of Christianity Today) about municipal zoning codes getting in the way of home church gatherings. Some communities actually have ordinances that require groups of 4 or more to get a permit to hold a group meeting in a home. (This means no dinner parties without Big Brother’s permission, I guess!)
I don’t think this is a major threat to most small groups, but it does beg the question: if we give up our church buildings, then what? What new vulnerability are we exposed to?
What do you think? Are big, beautiful buildings in the church’s future? Or are we retreating back to an early church model of small gatherings? And is it possible that we will become disenfranchised by our loss of property?