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Thoughts on Church Buildings

March 7, 2018

church-buildingDoes your “group” own the building in which you meet to worship God – whatever name you use to refer to the deity?

For various reasons over the past few weeks, the ownership of church buildings has been on my mind again.

  • Carey Nieuwhof’s most recent Canadian Church Leaders Podcast featured an interview with Graham Singh on “What to do with empty church buildings?”
  • Various news reports highlighted various church building transitions in Montreal (Canada) and elsewhere across Canada: National Post, Tower Trip, and Huffington Post.
  • A congregation in my area recently reviewed blueprints to start building their new facility (approx. $3.5 million), having received all the necessary local government, engineering, mechanical and other approvals.

All this coverage relating to church groups constructing or re-purposing facilities leads me to the following questions and reflections:

What is a “church”? The most basic question of all. If an organization calls itself a church (or synagogue or mosque), what does that mean and require? In the Christian tradition, a church is NOT a building. Rather, it is a group of people who profess belief in Jesus Christ (or another deity) and seek to gather together to worship and learn.

Some may gather in a house, some may gather in a school or theatre, some may gather in a building known as a “church.” However, many churches do not and cannot assemble together in a “church building” for a number of reasons. Regardless, when followers of Christ gather together wherever they do so, they are a church fellowship within the Church (universal).

The next question – and the one sparking discussion in many North American circles  recently – is Why own a church building? There are good suggested reasons for a group of believers to own a facility and there are good reasons for a group to meet together in a rented space they do not own. When considering whether answer the question affirmatively or negatively, the group needs to consider…

  • Can the Church be and do what she is called to with or without a facility?
  • How are the resources (esp finances, though not the only consideration) best allocated so the ministries of the church connect with the intended people?More specifically, are there opportunities to serve other people that are passed over because the congregation is focused on the facility (either construction or maintenance)?

Most North American congregations are currently exempt from paying taxes for church buildings. More and more, churches need to be known for what they offer, especially if they are NOT contributing to the tax base of the community. Even so, it appears the days of this exemption will likely end within the next decade. (For more discussion of this issue, listen to Jeff Henderson talks about it on Carey Nieuwhof`s Lead Like Never Before podcast. For an interesting article, consider this by pastor Matt Boswell.)

  • Finally, what is a congregation’s responsibility when they no longer use the facility? Sell it? Let it be re-purposed? Donate it to another non-profit engaged in a meaningful community service… maybe even one the church “used to do in the good ole days”?

Again, this question may seem irrelevant to some church leaders. Yet there are non-profits in towns and cities across North America who can see a building lying empty and would love to access the facility as a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, English as a Second Language center, or other services. And yet the church or denomination will not let them rent or buy the building while it sits empty (at least six days a week, if not permanently closed). However, here is a story that shows a church that dealt with their no longer of use facility wisely.

I would be curious to hear your thoughts on church buildings or your examples of wise stewardship of church facilities.


From → Leadership

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