The cost of church buildings

ASBO Jesus once again manages to encapsulate an entire conversation into one cartoon.

expensive church buildings

Church buildings aren’t inherently bad, but they certainly aren’t inherently good either. Too easily, they distract us from the real point of church (as many of us learned as children). With help from George Herbert, I’ve written about church buildings here on 7WD. More specifically, I’ve had things to say about restrooms.

Call me crazy. I think the Episcopal Church might be better off if we more often had to do our thing outside the red doors and stained glass we love so much.

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9 Responses

  1. Ann Cooper says:

    I am so with you on this. Jesus definitely did not say, “Hang out inside in expensive buildings,” he said “Feed my sheep.” The buildings are beautiful and often holy places, and can be used for many things, but the purpose of the church is outside its walls.

  2. Derek Olsen says:

    You also have to meet folks where they are.

    One of my best friends from seminary is a Lutheran mission planter. He’s working on a start-up congregation south of the ATL and one of his biggest hurdles in growing the congregation is that they worship in a storefront rather than a church building. So many people feel a need to worship in a space that feels like holy space.

  3. Rob Huttmeyer says:

    There are some episcopal diocese that are doing this already- not by choice- but are still doing it. In the diocese of Fort Worth, there are only four churches that own a church building. Everyone else is all over the place. My own church worships in a wedding chapel but everything else goes on outside of it. It has also expanded out outreach to the community. Of course, there is the lawsuit about getting the church buildings back. However, my own church is seriously discussing selling the church if we do get it back.

  4. Orin Brustad says:

    I belong to a UCC church in Ypsilanti, MI.
    The building is about 130 years old and is simply unsustainable by a small congregation. It’s been listed for sale for a decade or more. Rent from occasional tenants hardly covers the heat bill. The building would be a safety hazard if abandoned. Various cohorts of departing members figured this out over the last several decades and the remaining members are looking for an Episcopal diocese or errant bishop to accept a deed to the premises in consideration of a robust version of How Firm a Foundation to be sung at the delivery of the deed.

  5. Ethan says:

    @Derek: Lots of people (secular and religious) feel the need to live in expensive mansions too. If they don’t, they feel as though they have not attained a level of success in their personal lives, and feel a deep yearning. It’s not a Christian yearning, but they sure do want it.

    Your comment suggests to me both a) that in many cases, you’re probably right, and folks need an axis mundi, but moreover that b) perhaps the traditional church has trained people that without a “church” they cannot truly worship. Certainly, the church had help from social forces and basic human tendencies about aesthetics, art, money, and power that predated it, and overcoming what we are is hard. Still, if folks see their worship as inadequate without a “church” building, maybe the church has not succeeded to date in teaching who the Christian temple actually is, and where He actually lives.

  6. Annie Patterson Rothgeb says:

    @Ethan, point taken. At Church of the Apostles in Fairfax, Virginia, we always dealt with the fact that our non-traditional building was a stumbling block for some people to even come through our doors. Over the years our building was often referred to as God’s Warehouse, and it looked so much like a warehouse that people would tell us that they didn’t even know it was a church. We had no stained glass, no steeple, and no red door. Now we have lost our warehouse and are exploring future possibilities while we worship in another church up the road.

    The point being that in order to succeed in “teaching who the Christian temple actually is, and where He actually lives” we need to reach people who have a certain expectation of church: non-Christians, the unchurched, and new-Christians. Mature Christians understand this. YES. YES. YES. There is much work to be done outside the doors, and we must recognize that work as crucial to fulfilling Christ’s commission to the church. However, it will be the more mature Christians who are able to forego the traditional church buildings in favor of storefronts. As non-traditional church buildings become more common they will not be a hurdle for the people we are hoping to reach.

    Blessings, Annie

  7. Darrell says:

    The structure and function of what we know or knew as church has definitely evolved over the years.We must remember to assess the needs of the respective communities these physical stuctures represent from a perspective of Spirit before designing or even building them. When we do this we are not only going to build for the present but for generations to come. I encourage all those who are planning to build or rebuild a “Church” to consult with an organization called Interfaith Power & Light (goole it). There is a chapter in your region which will assist you in greatly cutting energy costs by reason of both the design and the materials used to build. God Speed : ).

  8. Robin Bugbee says:

    Perhaps your love affair with church buildings has ended because it is often so one sided. One sided relationships rarely survive. I say one sided because it seems like long term parish communities frequently love their church buildings more than their clergy do. Some of this is for obvious reasons. Clergy however committed and only committed for a relatively brief time whereas long time church members are committed to their church for a lifetime and more. And then we have the issue of paying for upkeep and repair which I am afraid can be a Rector’s worst nightmare as repair and maintenance costs along with apportionment can rob a church of the funds needed the most, for those projects designed to aid the poor and underfed and to feed the need for spiritual learning and growth that is too often eliminated for lact of funding. Hope you are well Scott. Miss you!

  9. Catherine says:

    Part of the appeal of an older church is that it is, through its physical nature, a place “set apart”, drawing the mind away from the workaday and turning it toward thoughts more spiritual and eternal.

    An older building, like the liturgy, connects me to generations of the saints who have gone before me. These connections can be just as meaningful as the connections we make with those in the here and now (especially for introverts!) Many who have been in Winchester Cathedral or hundreds of other European cathedrals and churches can attest to this.

    We Americans far too readily fail to recognize the importance of age, whether in people or in buildings 🙂