Recently a churchgoer emailed me the following concern:
Our church is growing, and for that I am grateful to the Lord. We sometimes have to turn families away. However, we have lately seen a shift in our church’s vision from adding more and smaller congregations (satellite, multi-site) or even new church plants toward now starting a campaign to build a bigger building. I am an apprentice at this church and am struggling to see the benefit or impetus behind the new building as opposed to the older model we were moving towards for years. It is going to be enormously expensive and seems very luxurious.
My question is: how do I as an apprentice and member settle my questions about the new building and direction? How do I faithfully submit to the elders, or is this even a big enough issue that excuses me to seek other churches? I have already asked an elder and was very unsatisfied with the response.
Thanks in advance.
Here was my answer:
I’m not sure that you want to ask me this question, since my friends know me as opposing the multi-site model. But since you asked . . .
Let’s start with building a big building. Big buildings seem wasteful, almost ungodly, to a certain segment of evangelicals these days. I think that concern may be misplaced. My own church regularly thanks God for the saints who, in 1911, made financial sacrifices to build the building we presently inhabit. And I assume they had far less disposable income than we do. Just think: a century’s worth of Christians have now been gathering at 6th and A Street, NE, in Washington, DC, in a building that accommodates just over 1000 people, to hear the Word, sing praises, send missionaries, watch conversions and baptisms, nurture children toward the faith, and so on! Praise God for their foresight and sacrifice. I’d say the building has been well used for kingdom purposes.
Am I saying that churches never go overboard with their buildings? I assume some do. And do some once-full buildings now sit empty as sad, cavernous testimonies to saints who began to care too much about their own little program instead of God’s larger work of redemption? Sure. But in most of those situations, the problem wasn’t with the building; it was with dozens of other things. A building can be used well or poorly.
Would the money spent on a building be better spent feeding the poor or sending missionaries overseas? Well, unless you have some way of quantifying the kingdom impact of a large healthy church in your city versus all those other ways you might spend the money, I’m just not sure how you can claim that. A large healthy church can, over the decades, sends lots and lots of missionaries and care for lots and lots of people in need. Again, the real question is, will they remain biblically faithful? Small churches with buildings that are falling apart can go awry just as easily as churches with nice big buildings.
Certainly there are times not to build a bigger building, but a settled anti-new-building posture, I dare say, is probably short-sighted.
Now, on the question of multi-site, well, here are 22 problems I have with multi-site churches. But I won’t get into that now.
But let’s suppose that you still maintain a big building is a waste of money. Should you leave?
Keep in mind that, between planting and building a bigger building, we are dealing in a matter Christian freedom. And generally I would not encourage you to leave a church over a matter that the Bible leaves utterly free.
In fact, Joe, to push you a little harder, leaving a church over non-biblically specified matters like this could be a sign of a subtle legalism. To be sure, it’s fine to have opinions on whether it’s wiser to plant or to build. But to make it the sort of thing over which you would leave? Be careful there. Pastors and churches must use wisdom to make lots of decisions that aren’t biblically specified. But we must keep the line very clear in our minds between biblical principle and wisdom. And when dealing in the wisdom category, we must keep a looser grip. Make sense? Unless there are other issues at play that you’ve not disclosed, I do think this is an issue over which you should happily submit to your elders.
I hope all that’s helpful. Let them build, and maybe support the project financially. After all, I suspect you have enjoyed the benefits of the saints who sacrificed for the buildings you have gathered in ever since becoming a Christian!
Adapted from a post at 9Marks.org