Outside the Box

From “Thinking Outside the Box” by Arron Chambers

I don’t hate church buildings, but I don’t love them, either.

They can be both great tools and—in my opinion—great obstacles in the work of reaching lost people. Church buildings create identity, opportunity, stability, and credibility. They reflect a commitment to the community, but they can also isolate Christians from the world (and each other) and sap huge amounts of time, energy, and money that could otherwise be used for outreach and staffing needs.

I recently read an online conversation between the preachers of two massive churches: David Yonggi Cho and Rick Warren.

Reflecting on Saddleback’s explosive growth, Warren said:

We wanted to prove to the world that you don’t have to have a building to grow a church. We were running over 10,000 in attendance before we built our first building. So we know how to grow and minister without buildings . . . Even if we had all the buildings we needed, one question is whether or not the next generation wants to worship in huge buildings!

We do spend a lot of money on buildings. At Southside Christian Church, where I minister, we are paying millions of dollars for our first building (we’ve been without a building for 11 years), which makes me feel a little queasy. In reality a church building is just a very attractive, functional, but expensive box.

The first Christians did well without church buildings. They gathered in homes, tombs, catacombs, and anyplace else they could gather safely. The first evidence of a house being converted to a place of worship was discovered in Iraq in 1920 by British soldiers; the church dates back to AD 241-256. There is no evidence of Christians building church buildings until the construction of basilicas during the reign of the emperor Constantine in the early fourth century.

The first Christians were thinking “outside the box” long before it was popular to do so. They gathered not in a box, but as a body. A body is the image God prefers for his church (Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18; Romans 12:4, 5).

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From “Church Building Sucks” by Joshua Cody

This is the question I still wrestle with: What should a church look like? Should churches spend millions of dollars building monumental works of art to God? Should churches build hideous boxes with gray folding chairs to save maximum money to give maximum money?

The Crystal Cathedral, which is on the list linked above, is obviously a specimen in incredible architecture. It is also incredibly effective. Mars Hill Bible Church, on the other hand, is the definition of bland. It, too, is incredibly effective.

Sometimes I long for the beauty and majesty of Rome, but maybe that’s what heaven is for. Other times I lament the seemingly infinite over-spending of gaudy cathedrals, but maybe I’m being too idealistic.

What do you think? Do church buildings suck? Is there even an answer to these questions? Maybe each community has a different perfect church. I don’t have the answers, but I hope we’re asking the right questions.