Faith Works 2-15-14
The end of buildings
There's a common theme in recent writing, especially online writing among those involved in what's called "the emergent church."
The emergent church is an expression of a contemporary form of Christianity with classical elements contained within: chant, candles, contemplation. It tends to be young in audience and leadership, and is usually a sort of new church plant that doesn't show any interest in ending up like older churches, in any way.
Call them cool, and they won't argue, but will insist that it isn't their goal.
The common theme I'm seeing emergent folks playing off of is: who needs a building?
If you don't understand how you can be a church without a building, then you're making some of the emergent folks' point for them. "The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is the people." So sang Avery and Marsh in 1972, and the ideal of envisioning the church of Christ as the Body, not a building, has struggled mightily to be born since then.
Today, a "church plant" begins in rented rooms, in school auditoriums normally empty on a Sunday, or nested within an established church on a Sunday afternoon. And they may or may not aspire to having a building or property committee someday.
More and more developing church models don't assume the ownership of property or the building of a physical plant as a goal. Those of us who have such ministry tools in our care can understand why. When I go into a church building, I probably notice faster than you would where the plaster cracks are (and how deep, and which direction they run), where the roof leak stains are, the quality of the windows, etc. etc.
A building is a ministry tool, and should be used, maintained, and even set aside with that understanding in mind. But there's something in us that can make of the church building an idol, and we… well, we don't worship it, but it starts looking dangerously close to doing so.
All of us in buildings as a part of our ministry understand the attraction of doing without one: but I also have seen how the extra work it takes to be "building-free" can drain valuable ministry energy that could go to mission and outreach, but is "spent" in set-up and tear-down, or even in moving from point-to-point.
Buildings have a logic all their own. We should appreciate them, and care for them, but when they dictate the shape of our ministry it's a fair question: should we stop using this tool, and find a new one? And maybe even a tool that doesn't look like what we're used to having in our hand.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he loves the Newark Central building, but knows it is something less than the Kingdom itself! Tell him about your building issues at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.