I get a ton of email and, I bet, you do too! In addition to the regular friends and work issues that come to my inbox, I receive some emails from various "ekklesia" movements around the world. Recently, I opened up an email that discussed an article that appeared in the United Kingdom regarding the "steep" cost of maintaining the aging church buildings across the country. In this article, the reporter pines that it could cost up to a billion "pounds" (about $1.7 billion USA dollars) to "fix" the facilities that are falling apart. Now, remember that many of the church buildings in the UK are old, in fact, very old. But at issue is THE issue…the cost of overhead in local church ministry that is going to gobble up financial resources of the people who participate in these ministries. It's interesting, that in the UK there is a STATE church so people are debating how much the government should be shelling out for rebuilding buildings that very few people enter on any given Sunday. We might not be in THAT type of condition, but we in the USA are facing a similar dilemma as time goes on.
I estimate that the local churches who have large debt and/or an aging facility might be those gatherings who will soon discover that offerings from loving and giving people will fall far short of the mounting expenses in overhead. I know in my own backyard, in a facility that is over 60 years old, the cost of "just keeping the building open" continues to skyrocket. We just so happen to have one of our city's leaders in planning sitting on our leadership team. Good news is that the guy is faithful, smart and gifted as well as a real asset to our leadership process. The bad news is that he knows too much…he knows the costs of utilities before the news hits the average consumer…he knows what the costs are for permits and other licensing issues that are required for public spaces. As costs go up and congregations age and decline, there will come a point of no return. For some of us in local churchworld we are blessed with "paid off" buildings and as low of an overhead stack of expenses that can be possible and STILL it is only by the hand of the Lord that our faith community stays alive. I know people in other faith communities who are facing unbelievable financial challenges…challenges not wrestled with for decades. Seriously, who knows what the local expression of "church" will look like in decades to come. For many, economics alone will put many "out of business." Again, I know in our backyard how blessed I am to have a group of Jesus followers who make my financial life stable and possible with their generosity. But say we had a major facility crisis (we have had some minor crises but had savings to navigate those issues), the impact of said crisis might completely pull the wind out of our economic sail. For many of the people I know if OTHER church bodies, the margins are slim and the anxiety is rising. Thank God that Jesus said the "gates of hell" could not sink what God is doing in the world in and through HIS body through HIS people. You see, in many respects, it doesn't matter what the long term cost of "going to church" is going to be…because if you have the value in your heart that you ARE the church, then you know that living and serving and experiencing the Kingdom of God will continue on despite the condition of or lack thereof of some building in which you meet. The long term cost of the "I go to church" philosophy is that, for many people, there won't be a church to go to…but there is always a Lord to love and serve and there are always people eager to share in a journey in which THEY AS THE CHURCH live faithfully for Jesus and contine to grow and bear Kingdom fruit.
So, whatever the future has in store, what your philosophy of what Church IS will shape your optomisim, pessemism or cynicism about the future of the local church. For me, I know that the commuity of faith, the Body of Jesus, HIS Church will survive whatever crumbling structures come and go. And frankly, thank God for that!