To Build or not to Build

Once in a while I get this question about Crosspoint: “When do you think you will build a building?”  That’s a great question, so let me share my thoughts.  And just to clarify, what I assume people generally mean when they say “a building” is your typical church building: auditorium, offices, children’s space, and so forth.

First, let me tell you about the current reality of Crosspoint.  We do not own a building.  We gather every Sunday in a rented space (currently the Northgate Lions Seniors Recreation Centre) and lease a warehouse unit year-round.  Our Sunday location is a church planter’s dream.  It has two hundred parking stalls, a gym-auditorium, tons of class space for the kids, and a cafeteria that we can use as a coffee house.  We book it every Sunday morning, year-round.  (I have to add, the staff at the NGLSRC are fantastic to work with – kudos to the City of Edmonton and their people.)  If we had three hundred people show up on a Sunday (adults and kids), the place would feel very full.  We could conceivably host two gatherings on a Sunday morning, which means we could use this space comfortably for about five hundred people.  Like I said, a church planter’s dream.

The warehouse space we lease year-round (the Ministry Centre) is about 3000 square feet, which includes a large shop (to hold our trailer full of equipment), four office spaces, meeting room, two bathrooms, kitchenette, and some space in the back for future office cubicles.  The rent is minimal.  The downside of its location is that it’s not in the region of the city where our Sunday gatherings are hosted.  But it is literally impossible to get rented space in northeast Edmonton that can house our trailer.

Now, there are several advantages to not owning a typical church building.  The first is cost.  Owning and maintaining a building is expensive.  Because we rent, we can divert funds towards staffing and our external mission.  For the record, I’ve worked in churches where the question every month at the board meeting was, “How are we going to pay the mortgage this month?” rather than, “Who do we want to add to our team? What new apostolic initiatives do we want to start?”  It’s no fun being house poor.  Other advantages of renting include never having to clean toilets, and never having to worry about problems like maintenance, upkeep, taxes or security.

The greatest advantage, by far, is that not having a building actually reinforces our mission.  We believe that the church is the people of God, following God in his redemptive mission in the world.  That’s very basic missional ecclesiology, I know.  Yet it’s true to Crosspoint, to the core.  When you don’t own a building, you are forced to be creative with planning events, training workshops and gatherings.  Often you end up meeting in people’s homes (in neighbourhoods – imagine that) or in rented community facilities.  You don’t feel guilty because you have a building sitting empty during the week.  As a result, you can avoid the impulse of cramming the building full of ministry programs.  You also don’t have an auditorium sitting empty, which you have to pay to heat and cool.  And because people aren’t so busy attending your mid-week programming, they can be engaged in home groups or incarnating the gospel in the places where they live, eat, recreate and shop.

There are a few false assumptions about owning a building that I’d like to address.  One of them is that you will never have to set-up sound equipment or chairs.  Anybody who has ever been a sound person knows that you still have considerable set-up on any given Sunday, even if you own a building.  Plus, when you own a building, you still need people to make coffee, to set up children’s classrooms, to fold bulletins, and the list goes on.  The other thing to keep in mind is that the labour you subtract by minimizing set-up, you add in maintenance.  You’ll need to add custodial, groundskeeping and general maintenance to the list.

Some church plants dream of no longer having to set up chairs.  In our current location, we don’t have to set up chairs, so that’s not a concern of ours.  But why would you assume that if you owned a building, you wouldn’t have to set up chairs?  An auditorium that sits empty during the week is a tremendous waste of kingdom resource.  Churches of the future that want to engage the unchurched need to design buildings with their community in mind.  Why not “black box” your auditorium?  Why not make it into a room that can be purposed for multiple uses – much like the gym auditorium at the Northgate Lions?  Imagine if a church decided to design a building not just for their congregation, but for the community.  How missional would that be?  Of course, a multi-purpose space like that would need people who can set-up chairs…

To be practical, a church should never build until they’re certain it’s the right time.  Some churches might hurry to build, but then build something too small or too impractical.  They might build it for their immediate need rather than what they might need twenty years down the road.  Other churches build prematurely, but then end up being ‘house poor’ and can’t afford to hire staff or be engaged in the mission of God.  Timing, funding, stewardship and calling – all of these factors must be considered.

But here’s the most important factor to consider.  I think churches should only build something that aligns with their God-given mission.  The danger in building is that your building becomes the mission rather than helping you accomplish the mission.  I’ve seen churches build and the building becomes the focus of all their attention.  It’s all about funding the building, designing the building and then maintaining the building – and meanwhile the original apostolic mission slowly erodes away.  As Marshall McLuhan has said, “The medium is the message.”  Applied here, your building is the medium that can dictate the mission (message) of your church.  What message is it sending?  How is it helping to reinforce or confuse your mission?

For Crosspoint, we want to build so long as the building enhances our mission, not becomes our mission.  We are not against building.  We’re just uber pro-mission.  And if a building will help the mission and make God’s name great…then we’re all in.

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