Building Church Buildings: Do We Spend Too Much?

large_churchIn Matthew 16:13-20, we find an exchange between Jesus and his disciples.  In this conversation, Jesus asks his followers what people are saying about him and who they are saying he is.  After the disciples answer this question, Jesus then asks who they think Jesus is.  Peter steps to the front and, speaking for the group, says “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus, responding to Peter, replies “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

Peter had gotten it right!  He understood who Jesus was!  Jesus goes on in his reply to Peter to say “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…”  I am pretty sure Jesus was not talking about a building in this statement.  Jesus was talking about a group of people that he was assembling to proclaim the gospel and to do good works.  However, when I look at the Church today, I am left wondering if we care too much about building buildings.  Has that become our goal?

When I read news articles that report that many churches today have more debt than they can afford to repay, I wonder how we have gotten into this problem.  I recall a conversation that took place at a pastors’ conference I attended about a year ago between two seasoned leaders.  When asked about priorities in ministry, one pastor stood and addressed a gathering of fellow pastors and said that he always counsels churches to focus on securing land and a building before it calls additional staff personnel beyond the senior pastor.  His logic was that staff people cost money and that money could be saved to buy a building.  After the building is secured, the church can then worry about additional staff people.

A second pastor, after listening to the first, stood and responded that this is exactly the opposite approach that he would take.  He stated that his priority is always people and staff members are more important to ministering to the needs of people than buildings.  In fact, he thought that renting space (in his case a school gym) was much more cost effective and allowed the church to allocate its money to much more important ministry needs than a mortgage or building maintenance.

What should we do?  In today’s world, I see churches building multi-million dollar facilities with state-of-the-art technology.  Is this necessary?  I suppose if you want to compete with the church down the street it is.  But is this an example of where the church has lost its focus?

It’s true, we need places to meet.  It’s also true that not every church is in debt or in a state-of-the-art facility.  Some churches have even begun to meet in homes rather than traditional church buildings.  But the majority of Christians are currently meeting in churches that meet in buildings that are church-owned.  How do we know when the facility we have is sufficient for our needs?  Can a church survive in today’s world if it refuses to adopt the “bigger and better” mentality that drives our consumeristic mindset?  How do we best manage the money that God has entrusted to us as churches?

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7 Responses to Building Church Buildings: Do We Spend Too Much?

  1. Robert says:

    What should we do? In today’s world, I see churches building multi-million dollar facilities with state-of-the-art technology. Is this necessary? I suppose if you want to compete with the church down the street it is. But is this an example of where the church has lost its focus?

    Do you sincerely believe grandiose church buildings are indicative of lost focus? Such buildings reflect centuries of Christian tradition! Have you ever heard of the Hagia Sophia? Its builders knew what people like Rick Warren and Ted Haggard can confirm: big and fancy church buildings attract flocks.

  2. Tim Farley says:

    Robert:

    You make a valid point. Large and expensive buildings are not new. But I would make a couple of observations. First, I do not think it is wrong to have “grandiose” buildings. I do question whether many of the churches who have these buildings should. Have they taken on more debt than is wise? Have they allocated thier money with correct priorities? Secondly, just because the church has done something in the past does not make it correct (then or now). I could argue that those old, grandiose buildings were just as much a mishandling of funds as they seem to be today. Have we allowed a consumeristic mindset of “bigger is better” to creep into our churches so that we are constantly allocating funds and taking out loans to pay for expansions so we can keep up with the church down the street, all the while neglecting care for the poor and needy in our society as well as diminishing our opportunities to support missionaries and other vital ministries? What is the biblical balance? Surely churches are called to be stewards of the funds entrusted to them. What are the proper priorities?

  3. Raf says:

    Balance is key, and so is the motivation behind the building project. God knows the heart, and He judges. His tabernacle was something to behold, but it took much preparation and years (in the wilderness and later in Jerusalem there wasn’t a good lending agency!). God looked at the motivation of David for building Him a dwelling, and He was pleased–but David didn’t get to do it. God was pleased to have Solomon do the building. David did much to prepare for Solomon to do so. It seems to me that Solomon was still on the right track when he was building and dedicating this amazing building, but the issue was to glorify God–not just have a fancy, amazing building.

  4. Jeremiah Whitten says:

    I absolutely LOVE this. I believe the Evangelical church today is like the rich man who couldn’t give up his riches to follow Christ. We believe, we desire closeness with God, but we are unable to cast aside our selfish and vain desire for megachurch comfort, padded chairs, television and radio airtime, and LCD flatscreen TVs in the Restrooms.
    Idolatry is as easy as going to church.

  5. Tim Farley says:

    Jeremiah: Thanks for your comment. Sorry it has taken so long to respond. You are so right about idolatry being “as easy as going to church.” Colossians chapter 3 tells us that covetousness is idolatry and we sure do covet. It is the American way! I think we avoid this topic in our churches because it is too personal. If we examine ourselves and are honest, we all have far more than we need and really do not need the things we want. Honestly dealing with this issue would require a big change in lifestyle for us personally and I am not sure many of us really want that. So, I guess we should see ourselves in the shoes of the rich man just as you said.

  6. Rick says:

    Yes. So the question for me is, if a church has a large missions program and sends out new missionaries on a semi-regular basis, they have a large benevolence program to help the needy, they are involved in the community, reaching out to the various needs of it members, and seeking Christ in everything, is there anything wrong with building a large building filled with all kinds of technology. I guess motive is the key to all this, but there is no debt, the plan was considered and prayed over for many weeks, the limit was set on debt, the people were asked to vote, and no other ministries or priorities were set aside to pay for a building. All the giving towards the building was over and above what was already coming in. We have outgrown out space, so more space is required, but the level of extravagance here is in question.

  7. Tim Farley says:

    Rick,

    Your comments and internal struggle over this question are ones I think we should all be wrestling with and asking ourselves. How much is too much? I guess that is a difficult thing to nail down, but it should be something we are always asking sincerely as we seek to serve our Lord. Thanks for your thoughts!

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