Don’t Plant a Building

The other day, I made a quick and dirty case for turflessness: “The easiest way to get outside of the ‘four walls’ of the church is to not have ‘four walls’ to begin with.”

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One interlocutor suggested that moving into a 7-day-a-week, bricks-and-mortar “church” building helped members feel like they are “firmly planted”. I suggest that this version of “plantedness” is an essentially middle-class felt need. Stability, predictability, this-thing-ain’t-going-anywhere—these and other sentiments aren’t necessarily wrong. But they mustn’t be the aim of a gospel-planting church.

This morning, serial entrepreneur and start-up mentor Steve Blank offered WSJ readers a series of sharp observations about the ways building envy can wreck a culture. Want to kill a scrappy, can-do environment? Convince yourselves that your hard work has earned you a little luxury.

The new building telegraphed to our employees, “We’ve arrived. We’re no longer a small struggling startup. You can stop working like a startup and start working like a big company.”

We started to believe that the new building was a reflection of the company’s (and our own) success. We took our eye off the business. We thought that since we were in such a fine building, we were geniuses, and the business would take care of itself.

and most bracing of all was his summary of lessons learned from “The Curse of the New Building”:

Don’t let it happen to you. Stay hungry, stay lean. New buildings are a distraction. You should avoid them at all costs. Building upgrades can destroy a culture.

Many established church pastors cite a church building campaign as the worst experience they’ve ever had in ministry. Why would a startup church, then, even entertain such an idea? It seems to me to be a recipe for premature institutionalization, the clogging of missional arteries in the body of Christ, and a great way to advertise that your values are in closer alignment with the 20th-Century middle class than with the 1st-Century spontaneous expansion of the church.

Building “upgrades”? Count me out.

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4 thoughts on “Don’t Plant a Building

  1. What does that say of brick & mortar colleges that build like mad every time they … uh…don’t have money, but somehow budget to spend on a new, fancy building?

  2. There is of course, a middle way: move into an existing building that desperately needs to be rehabbed and that may even be terribly and terminally inadequate. That’s the course we’ve taken in our last two church plants. It presents a whole different set of problems and dynamics–but, it also makes the congregation a part of the overall reformation of the community.

    Thoughts?

    • George,

      I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes salivate over the possibility of occupying a charming church (or other) building that had fallen into disuse or disrepair. I think of Metro Church in Youngstown, OH, that happened upon a beautiful million dollar cathedral at a teeny fraction of the price tag, as a young church plant, which has turned out to serve them well.

      And clearly if the architecture is there, and the community could be strengthened by the vibrant presence of a vital congregation, then such an occupancy may be in tight missional alignment with the church.

      I guess I’d think of this as a rare exception of my otherwise strident view. I’d want to build in a culture of “scattering” before hand to counterbalance the propensity to feel like you have to do everything in the church building in order to justify having it.

      Good thoughts, sir.

      A

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