Since seminary days, I have been a student of church architecture. I love to walk through worship spaces, take pictures, and learn their history. The structures that we Christians build make theological statements, whether the buildings are gothic cathedrals, simple country churches, art nouveau temples, or modern places of gathering. Auxiliary buildings such as Christian education space, fellowship halls, and gymnasiums express our approach to church life and ministry.
The challenge we face comes when the way we do church changes. Believe it or not, it is easier to change the way that a church worships than it is to alter how it uses its buildings. And, as anyone who has ever attempted it knows, changing worship styles has divided more churches that have doctrinal issues.
Church buildings become memorials to life experiences. We become emotionally attached to buildings because that is where sacred moments in our lives took place--professions of faith, worship, baptisms, weddings, and ordinations, for example. The experience becomes so closely tied to the structure that the two become inseparable for us. Even more, the sacredness of the space prohibits any changes that might increase its effectiveness.
Spaces become relics of earlier, better times. The sanctuary that accommodated 700 people thirty years ago may now be used by a hundred people or less. We simply don’t need as large a facility as we once did. Aging facilities, often with deferred maintenance, constrain the church’s ability to institute new ministries and reach out to the community.
No one wants to admit it, but facilities may become a stumbling block to effective ministry. In a recent Baptist News Global story, Jeff Brumley observed that “another factor that can lead to extinction [of a church] is an emotional attachment to facilities so strong as to cripple a congregation’s willingness to share the gospel and make disciples.”
Buildings are not an end in themselves. They are tools to further the work of God’s Kingdom, but once something is built it takes on a life of its own and can hinder the work of the Spirit in the life of a congregation.