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edited 3.24.09

It seems inevitable that when churches run out of space they build something new.  I worked with one pastor who ascribed to the notion that the one way to insure a member’s commitment to the church is to build something every few years – even if it wasn’t necessary. 

Random Thought 1:  Recently, I read the book When Not to Build: An Architect’s Unconventional Wisdom for Growing the Church.   There isn’t anything particulalry surprising in the book (I wouldn’t run out a buy a copy) but it does provide some interesting starting points for why churches build.  Bowman and Hall focus discerning the true needs of a congregation – the opening scenario is how one church needed to build a storage shed rather than a new sanctuary.  It is a helpful book to hand off to the engineer types who are more likely to want to find “solutions” to any “problems” that might arrive.  What I found lacking was a discussion of outside the box thinking when it comes to how we can best be the gathered body in our respective communities.
Random Thought 2:  We are maxed out on space in some ways.  We can’t find a place for another group to meet on Sunday mornings.  Pews are full – sometimes too full.  Parking is a challenge on the lowest of Sundays.  Midweek we are without any space for groups to meet that is not upstairs. 
Random Thought 3:  There is a building I pass at least twice daily.  Up until 6 months or so ago it housed some mobile phone company with a really tacky mascot that would stand out in all sorts of weather. He/She/It did grab my attention.  Now there is a sign out front that speaks to the desperation of realtors:  First Year’s Lease Free.  Now that sign grabs my attention.
Random Thought 4:  There are a number of congregations in our Presbytery that are struggling with the albatross of beautiful buildings that once served well but are now simply sucking the life out of these people.  These congregations are choosing to close rather than moving beyond thinking that the church indeed is the building.  I completely understand the emotional tie to buildings (I worry about my home church at times as it struggles to “stay alive”).  I guess that childhood song was just that – a cute childhood song that is too simplistic for grown-ups. 
Beginning connections:  I don’t want us to build for
  • the sake of building
  • as a way for folks to connect to the “institutional” church
  • because that is what you do when you feel the pinch of crowded hallways and packed pews.

I also believe that all churches have a life cycle.  Who knows how long we will continue to grow at this rate.  There is no way to solidify that information in any faithful way.  And, I don’t think that is what we should be about.  Instead, I want us to ponder what it means to be faithful in this context we find ourselves in today.  How do we best live out te call to love God and love our neighbors?  Maybe it means a new building.  Maybe it means utilizing an old mobile phone company building (without the mascot, however!).  Maybe it means adding services and doubling – heck, tripling up the useable spaces we currently have.

Maybe it means building a storage shed. 

What I hope and pray for is that we will be open to how God is working in our lives and how we can best respond.  Not a simple task but an exciting time to be God’s people in this place. 

A note to Pioneer folks… please hear this as musings of one of your pastors who has been stuck at home sick for over a week!