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Building Church Upside-Down April 6, 2007

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Christianity, Church, Education, Family, Love, Morality, Religion, Theology.
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One of the most common slams I see against “The Church” (capitalization intended) is our willingness to throw lots of dollars into facilities that could be “better spent elsewhere.” To be frank (and you be Harold), this is not necessarily an unfair characterization.

church_plan

What if, instead, we turned the process upside-down, and built a church in reverse? What would that look like?

“Tradition… Tradition!”
(Yes, you’re supposed to sing that heading to yourself, with a thick Russian accent, and in a mid-baritone, Tevye voice. Trust me.)

Let’s first consider the traditional steps of building a church, roughly defined as:

  1. Buy/build a sanctuary of some kind
  2. Buy/build educational space
  3. Upgrade sanctuary for more space
  4. Add facility for children’s classes
  5. Add meal/fellowship area
  6. Expansion of above
  7. Add recreation space

Somewhere along the way, we realize that the buildings are almost always under-utilized (lots of action on Sunday, but almost nothing during the week), so we start looking for ways to “repurpose our space.” This typically involves trying to build community programs like day care, men’s basketball leagues, and so on.

Pineapple Upside-Down Church
What if, instead, the people who are starting a church (who say that they love the community, their neighbors, people they haven’t met, etc.), instead did the following:

  1. Built a community recreation center, open to anyone
  2. Added a low-cost/no-cost day care, open to anyone
  3. Started literacy programs to help at-risk kids in school
  4. Created/promoted programs for secular activities (theater, sports, etc)
  5. Found ways to re-purpose these community facilities for “church stuff” as necessary, but without intruding upon established programs/activities (that is, when they’re not otherwise being used by the community for other stuff)

What would happen? What would happen if a bunch of “church people” discarded the many habits and behaviors that tell the world “we’re really just a different kind of social club,” and really started looking for ways to love the world around them?

What would happen, if the most vocal critics of “the church,” had much less to criticize, and were clearly welcomed into a place that had been built to serve them? Jesus didn’t wait for people to love and accept him before he served them, healed them, or helped them.

Why should we?

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Comments»

1. roopster - April 6, 2007

Good post.

I also believe that the leadership structure of the church should be turned upside down. Where the leadership is on the bottom of the pyramid with the church members at the top. In essence leadership should push people up towards God instead of being on top of the pyramid speaking on behalf of God.

See http://safechurch.wordpress.com for more of my thoughts on the subject.

Paul

2. Tim - April 6, 2007

Paul,

I tend to agree with what you’re saying here. This is similar to the idea I presented in Gospel DRM? I’ll have to look further at what you’re saying, but my knee-jerk reaction is “I’m OK with that.” – Tim

3. Loving Annie - April 6, 2007

That would be a great idea ! Then it would be practical AND spiritual, and used by all for a good purpose !
Have an excellent Easter weekend, Tim !

4. Mia - April 6, 2007

Talk about a serious spiritual issue!

I understand the purpose of meeting needs in the community as a way of communicating the love of Christ. However, I do not agree that the house of God should be built with a foundation that promotes “fitting in church stuff” as necessary while not intruding upon established programs ect.

What would happen if we gathered to worship and praise Him with hearts of gratitude instead of an attitude of “I should” and more than twice a week? People from all walks of life should be welcome in the house of God and what that looks like is more about the attitude of reverence we have towards Him and the unmerited favor we have received by grace, than the functionality of the church. If we truly believe that the church is God’s and not ours, that He provides through his grace, then we should concern ourselves with healing grace in a hurting world.

….

5. Tim - April 6, 2007

Annie,

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope your Easter is blessed.

Mia,

As always, thank you for your thoughtful and prayerful input.

Part of the question revolves around defining “church.” If we see the church as a building, then we will naturally go down a specific path. However, if we presume that “God’s house” is larger than what human hands can build, then it radically alters what we might choose to construct.

Why is “worship” something we do only in a specific location? As you point out, if our hearts are truly filled with gratitude, we won’t be in worship twice a week with an attitude of “I should.” I agree completely with what you’re saying in terms of our concern for the functionality of the church, but the practical reality of most Christian churches (that I’ve seen) is that we have effectively built Christian country clubs.

I fully believe that the Church (not just a specific building) belongs to God, and that He provides for us through grace. How much more would we be equipped to share healing grace if we built a building with service in mind, and found ways to use it for His glory? (To be certain, my use of the phrase “fitting in church stuff” was geared toward evoking a reaction, but I’m focusing on the perspective of those who are unchurched.)

At present, we are seeing people all over the US proclaiming that they continue to believe in God, and have a spiritual focus, but fewer and fewer are finding their way into our churches. I’m not suggesting that we abandon the way we’ve done church in the past. I’m suggesting that we not do the same thing, the same way, and expect a different result. – Tim

6. Tom - April 6, 2007

All excellent points, I’m personally struggling with the ‘traditions’ (and yes I did sing that line when reading your post) of the church we have been attending. They have become the ‘ministry’ of the church in most peoples minds, when in fact they are anything but. We have a ‘family life center’ that is being used more & more to serve the community, but many members of the church are uncomfortable with those who come. We have no ways to integrate these ‘outsides’ into the programs & traditions of the church. I can’t help but feel the Jesus is not pleased… And we are now looking for where God can use us in true ministry, not just serving ‘traditions’…

7. Tre Pryor - April 7, 2007

Harold here… now you’re just making too much sense. Stop it. Stop it right now! ;^)

8. amyszoo - April 23, 2007

Interesting post. I actually just happened to surf in and I’m glad I did. I enjoy this type of thought, different is good. I guess part of the problem is that you couldn’t gain the money without the sanctuary to house the people who then wind up paying for the social programs. Being a former social worker, I actually prefer the idea that you are stating, I think most conservative Christians would totally blow it off though, particularly if they were Republican, which most are. Too bad, it’s a great idea!

Take care,
Amy

9. Tim - April 24, 2007

Tom,

I feel the pain of what you’re talking about. In my current church, we had youth basketball programs on Wednesday nights that soon drew a large number of un-churched kids. One night as several of the youth were streaming into the gym, I overheard one of our members say “You know, this is a place for OUR kids to play too.”

Tre/Harold/Frank,

I’ll do what I can. Making too much sense is not usually an issue for me. 😉

Amy,

Thanks for surfing by. I’m not sure if conservative Christians (who may happen to be Republicans) would blow it off or not. I think there is a fragment that would, but in discussing this approach (combining the evangelistic mandate of the Great Commission with the social mandate of the Greatest Commandments) with some conservatives, it seems to be getting quite a bit of traction.

The problem, I think, would be if you abandoned the evangelistic mandate completely. This reminds me somewhat of the way a previous employer insisted that an employee review and a salary discussion be kept completely separate. (They did this largely because budget issues frequently tie the hands of the supervisor, preventing him or her from making a salary adjustment as great as they would like.) While it may seem impossible to have such a discussion, it actually does work.

Jesus didn’t demand that people attend the Sermon on the Mount in order to receive healing. Why should we? – Tim

10. ravenhairedgoddess - May 22, 2007

This is by far one of the most excellent posts I have read. I find it very interesting that so many leaders within “the church” choose to continually work on building a bigger and better church building. When did they forget that the church is the people, not the building?

One of the things that bothers me the most is seeing huge, over-done churches being built. I can understand building or adding on if the church grows so much that it can’t meet in it’s current buillding. But building a new facility with all the high tech gadgets and gizmos when they could be doing so much more outside of their own doors really bugs me.

The church I attend is starting to become more involved in our local community and I’m really proud of that but I had never thought about the things you mentioned about building a community center. I would love to see that start happening across the nation.

11. Catherine - May 23, 2007

I agree.

12. Mike - June 25, 2007

“Found ways to re-purpose these community facilities for “church stuff” as necessary, but without intruding upon established programs/activities” . This kind of statement is downright foolish. It is kind of like saying I’m going to build a house and anyone can come in do what they want… and hopefully if I don’t bother them I’ll live in the closet.

Sure, the church is more then a building and the people should come before the pastor or the leaders of the church… however, I don’t agree that we should put the worship of God last or even second as the writer of this post suggested. The reason for the church is not to provide a place to play basketball or volleyball for the community and it is not a community center. God is not to be trivialized in this way and if the church decides to open it building to the community then it is hopefully to gradually bring the unsaved to an understanding of their need to be know Jesus as their personal Saviour.

We must also remember just who is paying for this building if it wasn’t the members of the church (the only other organization I can think of that gives anything to the poor is the government…and we all know just how good of a job they do…) and secondly would the members of the community center be willing to build a church… my guess is no…

13. Tim - June 25, 2007

Mike,

Thanks for your comment. Clearly (since I’m the author of the post), I don’t agree with your assessment that this trivializes God or worshiping Him. Yes, the statement you quoted was worded in an extreme way, but as I’ve stated in my response to Mia above, much of the question here comes about when we consider what “the church” really is. Most of what modern Christians take for granted as church is (relatively speaking) a modern concept.

My two questions would be “What is church?” and “What is worship?” Is the church the brick and mortar? (Clearly not.) Does God need my building to live in? (Again, clearly He doesn’t.)

As for your last statement, this causes me concern. Why wouldn’t a church (which may not have a building) choose to build a community center? If the members of the church are only willing to build something for the community when the community first comes to them, we may find ourselves sitting around, wondering where they are. In fact, this is already happening in America today. More and more, churches are creating sub-cultures of their own activities where “the world” is welcome, but they must first “come to the church.”

Why not push the church out into the world, and live out our faith there? As I’ve said in another post, what good is salt if it stays in the shaker? Isn’t salt meant to be sprinkled over the food? – Tim


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