Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Edifice Complex

In viewing the latest Christian Carnival over at Weapon of Mass Distraction, I came upon one of the posts which reignited an old flame under my kettle of righteous indignation. (Yes, when I get upset, I speak in bizarre figures of speech!) The topic was the building of a new church structure.

The original post is at irene q's unravelled. Her church is embarking on a multi-million dollar building program to put up a new. . . well. . . here's how irene describes it:

5,000-seat auditorium with a "world-class stage", another two halls with 1,000 seating capacity each, reception area, community centre, 3-storey arts centre with recording studio, atrium with skylight (a "hang out" spot), bookshop, library, counselling rooms, sports centre with facilities for indoor sports, two floors of classrooms, two floors of office space, and an intercessor's hall.

Insert jaw drop here.

Granted, my church is in an entirely different universe than one who conducts four packed services each weekend, but still a building like that is tough for most people to comprehend. irene's first question was simply, "Is all this really necessary?"

This is a quandry that lots of churches find themselves in. Maybe not to the degree of irene's church, but what kind of physical facilities should a church have? Better yet, how do you decide what you need as a church? Or when church shopping, what part do the facilities play in influencing a decision?

I've driven by Willow Creek in the Chicago area. I thought it looked nicer than most of the homes around where I live. Or most anything around where I live. I've heard the reasoning that the "yuppies" around that part of Chicagoland would never come to anything that's less than first class. Is that becoming like the rich so that by all means the rich may be saved? Or is it a good excuse to build big and fancy? The answer is likely only found in the heart, and I'll readily admit that I don't know Bill Hybels' heart (or anyone else for that matter) so I won't accuse anyone of anything. But I will raise the question: How luxurious should a church be?

For some reason, Kristen at Walking Circumspectly and I have been blogging on the same wavelength lately, so it only seems right that I pull this quote from her latest post and apply it in a literal fashion: "Is the Lord building the house, or am I seeking to please men with my deeds? Am I simply doing what is right in my own eyes, or has the Lord truly led me?" How do we decide if we are putting up a huge edifice for our own comfort or for legitimate reasons?

My guess is that we can find reasons to justify anything we put in a church building. A recording studio, a hangout, an art center, a bookshop. . . they can all be used for His glory. But what's in the heart of those erecting the edifice? Are they putting up a monument for their own glory or for God's glory.

Everytime I see a luxurious campus for a church or a parachurch ministry like Focus on the Family, I begin to wonder what a fraction of that money could do in a country like Haiti or Sudan. Are the yuppies of the world worth that much more than the Sudanese? I could think of a lot of things I can do with an extra 10,000 square feet of facilities. But couldn't I also do ministry working out of an abandoned downtown storefront or a ramshackle building? I guess that's a question that I have to wrestle with in my prayer time. I'd just hate to think that a facility devoted to God's ministry was built to provide luxury for lazy, spoiled Christians.


Not Crunchy said...

I'll tell you one thing for sure - these types of buildings provide ample ammunition to those looking for a reason to dislike or make fun of Christians. I do not count myself as one of them (who make fun of Christians), but mega-churches really, really turn me off.

rev-ed said...

A couple of post-scripts:

(1) I understand that irene q's church is not in America, but that really doesn't change the whole point.

(2) I know that many people have been brought to Christ through the ministry at Willow Creek and other churches, but at what cost?

(3) When we look for a church, do we look for a place where we can serve or a place which can serve us? More on that later this week.

rev-ed said...

NC - I understand what you're saying. We Christians can think just as selfishly as anybody else.

Yet there are many things that mega-churches can do, ministry-wise. However it seems that many are so dependent upon a nice building(s) to work from.

When I was growing up, there weren't any churches with air conditioning. We managed to sit and worship. Sure there was a little more sweat involved, but we could handle it. These days no one would show up at an non-a/c church. So there must be a bottom line for our culture. The trick is determining where that line is.

Kristen said...

Will I REALLY get to post a comment? Only time will tell.

I think the questions you raised (and the way you raised them) are excellent. It's painful to read NC's comment and know that's true; megachurches turn me off, too. I'm more of a homechurch-leaning gal. We don't attend a homechurch, but the church we do attend has rented facilities for its entire existence (15 years or so). They do own land that they plan to build on, so we'll see what happens in time. It's a slippery slope, I think.

It's a hard topic because while there aren't any "Thou Shalt Not Build a Fine Building" scriptures, the things you point out are obvious. Is a big fancy building good stewardship? Is it God's will?

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