I have long been a proponent of the house church idea. Main reason being, that I feel this is consistent with the New Testament model of “church”. It was the New Testament Christians, worshipping in this way that led to souls coming to Christ, and many wonders and signs being performed.
The costs associated with church buildings was one of the main reasons that I gave up tithing. The two top expenditures of organized religion are salaries, and facilities. I have felt that money given (“tithe”) should go directly to serving the people that need it, not to bricks and mortar.
Though I still support these positions, I have had a change of heart (or mind) in some respects. This change can be attributed to the following factors.
Personal experience. I have had the privilege of being part of, or leading, small groups, bible studies, and home fellowships. In these I have experienced great relationships, and spiritual growth. However, these small group/home church gatherings never seem to last (or stand the test of time). Over time, people get busy, or drift apart.
Within 21st century, Christian, American culture it seems people are less committed to small group/house church meetings and environments. The idea of church taking place outside of a dedicated ‘church building’ is too foreign to our society.
People, today, are guarded and skeptical about going to a strangers house. This actually could provide a hindrance to the spread and sharing of the gospel. When people are being introduced to something for the first time, or meeting someone, they generally prefer that it happens in a public place or on a “level playing field”. The idea of going to a strangers home, where that person will most likely be the only one that does not know everybody, to discuss spiritual matters, can be daunting and intimidating. There is a legitimate need for a common and public gathering place.
Alternate viewpoints. When people form an opinion of an issue, they tend to only read, listen to, and dialogue with only those that hold the same opinion. I like to get alternate viewpoints on opinions and ideas that I hold. In the last few weeks I picked up and read two books on church buildings.
The first of these is called, Design Intervention. I first met this author, Mel McGowan, through his Outreach magazine articles on church design. Mel, a former Disney Imagineer, is founder and chief creative officer of Visioneering Studios, an Envision.Design.Build. studio.
The second book that I read is, Why Church Buildings Matter, by Tim Cool. Tim is founder of Cool Solutions Group. His company has assisted over 400 churches with facility planning, development, and life cycle management.
Both authors state that buildings are a tool only. Not every church must have a building. The church building should be part of the story of the community in which it is built. A properly thought out, and built facility, can be an evangelism tool in itself, referred to as architectural evangelism.
When these authors refer to a church building and the importance of these structures they are not referring to big box buildings, or steepled structures that create a real estate “black hole” in the community. These “black hole” structures are those church buildings that sit empty for most of the time (except for a few hours on Saturdays or Sundays), and are not contributing anything to the community (tax base, services, or otherwise).
They liken the church building to the Biblical equivalent of the town well. The well was the central meeting place for the towns people. The well was a vital part of the culture. Jesus met, and changed the life of, the woman at the well. Life, and interactions, happened everyday at the well. Church buildings should be designed in this way. Church buildings should be structures that people are drawn to, they should be facilities that are open to the public all week, and from these, services should be provided, and community needs met. The church building should be a vital part of the community in which it is placed.
These books provide the ideals, but they also provide practical guidance on the process of church building and development. They both include great examples of churches that are being wells in their communities. Churches built within the context of the surrounding culture, providing services to the community, and leading people to Jesus, is a cause worthy of our investment.