This Wall Street Journal article ends with this quote: “A building does not make a church.” Oh how true…now I don't feel compelled in any way to be a prophet of doom so I won't be. NOR will I endlessly and needlessly "bag" on church buildings…they have their necessary place in what the Holy Spirit is doing in HIS 'ekklesia' (gathering of people who are following Jesus on His mission). Buildings have played important roles in what local congregations of "churches" ("where two or three are gathered in My name…" Matthew 18) have done for decades. Unfortunately, we have become too enamored with buildings in recent years…buildings drive budgets, ministries, decisions about ministries, etc. When people THINK "church" they think building…which simply isn't what God had in mind. God is an incarnating God…one who embodies Himself not in buildings but in hearts. And though buildings have their place, over time, they have redefined the default for many people when they think "church". Instead of thinking people or even themselves, they point to an edifice on a street corner (or, in some cases, in a small section of town). Now, economic realities are catching up…and if we don't heed the Spirit in reigniting passion for the Kingdom in ways that will build Christ's Kingdom in ways HE intended (that being relationally), economic realities will reshape the church as we know it and force many people and gatherings of followers to reexamine their purpose out of necessity.
Another thing, as I commented to the guy whose post I read who highlighted this article (thanks Frank), we live in a time where generations are different than the ones that primarily built the buildings that make up a majority of local church facilities. The older generations (isn't it a coincidence that they are labeled the "builder" generation) had the commitment to place, denominational brand and longevity in a congregation to service big debt. You know it like I do, times have changed. We are a consumeristic culture where decisions are made about church that have to do with deliverables and services based upon need…my belief is that the younger generations will not be the ones that service long term congregational debt. They are not wired up that way…they may make faithful givers with solid teaching, mentoring and a kindling for Kingdom passions (that's the way the Spirit works) but they will most likely NOT be the ones who will stick with a congregation through pastoral changes, programmatic upheaval, or ministry shift/change all of which occurs during the long term journey of indebtedness. In addition, add that to the fact that buildings are being built to house crowds that might not be there in years to come. Drive around some cities and towns with big OLD church buildings and simply see how few are filled with attenders on any given week…there are many sitting empty…what is going to happen in 20 or 30 years when the tides of culture change? What is going to happen with those buildings when cities, towns, populations and a plethora of other issues start to impact congregations where huge facilites and high facility maintenance and overhead can't or even won't be supported?
The more I read, converse with those in and out of formal "church" the more I am convinced that we hold on to our buildings "loosely" and focus our ministry initiative, best "practices" and most creative energy for that which will build DISCIPLES. A changed heart and life is reproductive…a building, just sucks your resources and has the potential of detracting your attention for the big reason we exist in the first place…oh well, I'll get off my horse now…high or otherwise!