Faith Works 2-22-14
Not quite about George Washington
Today is Feb. 22, which is George Washington's birthday.
It would be a good day to talk about the "faith of our fathers" and the Father of our Country, but I got so much feedback last week in talking about church buildings it only makes sense for me to finish some thoughts, and some provocations, about that subject, and see if in 750 words I can get back to our first president or not.
As I hoped would be clearer, nothing I spoke of last week should be taken to say that buildings are a bad idea, although we should keep an open mind when reading some of today's discussion afoot on the internet and in some church circles saying that maybe, at least in some situations, they are.
We do, it must be admitted, have a tendency to do a touch of idolatry when it comes to the structures in which we worship, and the Bible is pretty clear on where it comes down on idolatry. On buildings, not so much. God resides in a tent for big chunks of the Old Testament, and Jesus does much of his ministry on earth in rented rooms, as does Paul (the lecture hall of Tyrannus, third floor teaching rooms with wide windowsills, in his own apartment in Rome, etc.). Very little in the Christian scriptures or Hebrew writings that back up the need for assembled believers to own a big hunk of masonry and framing.
Nothing really to say it's bad, either.
The point is that a church building is a ministry tool. When the mimeograph first came out, it was a piece of technology that, combined with the address-o-graph, changed how we reach out to our community; that ministry tool gets set aside when copy machines and e-mail change the landscape of communications. This can also happen with structures, spaces, sanctuaries.
And we see churches moving into a variety of building types, too. Converted catering halls, repurposed schools, modified house layouts.
One of the fastest growing phenomena in congregational life in the US is the multisite church. A main "campus" or physical plant may also have a number of satellite locations, but all consider themselves a single "church" in governance and leadership and identity.
According to a National Congregations Survey by Duke University, there are over 8,000 multisite churches in this country, with 5 million (!) people worshiping in one expression or another of this approach. 9% of Protestants consider themselves part of a multisite church, even though they are just 3% of the total number of Protestant congregations. Locally, Newark Church of the Nazarene is working with a multisite model. There's a more traditional church building on Williams St., and other structures housing expressions of the Newark Naz ministry a few blocks north, and over in the East End.
In some multisite/satellite church models, everyone worships at the same time, with a live feed of the core service broadcast into the outlying churches, or the streaming feed can be used for later (or even next day) worship at the satellite location.
Others have shared elements of ministry across the location, but each location has its own preaching from the pastor and worship team of that campus, but following an outline and themes from the "mother church." However you handle the sermon, multisites are one way technology takes an old model – the circuit rider – and gives it a flexible new twist.
This is a fairly unusual model for being a church in terms of Christian history and tradition, but it makes sense that multisites have really gotten going in America. When this country called together the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the big question was how we could get from loose confederation of states to a truly federal model, where the nation as a whole had certain rights and responsibilities, but the states would still individually have roles and rights for themselves.
Our government is an ongoing experiment in balancing of the whole and the parts between states and the federal government, and the first leader of it, George Washington (told ya I'd get back to him!), found the balancing act challenging.
For multisites to work, you seem to need a pastor with both presence and administrative skills. The second generation of leaders in them will be interesting to watch, as the Bill Hybels and Rick Warrens and Andy Stanleys transition out of leadership, and new figures step into those roles.
Because pastors are no more permanent than church buildings!
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about how churches can work together at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.