Church buildings can be a major barrier to exponential growth. Massive building programs are often a waste of money. History has proven over and over that future generations never fill the cavernous temples of previous generations. For instance, every time Spurgeon’s Tabernacle was rebuilt (three times) it was downsized. The list of empty great cathedrals would be quite long. God wants to do something new in each generation. He blesses anointed people, not buildings.
We also need to remember that the period of fastest growth for Christianity was during the first 300 years – when there were no church buildings at all. And today most of the rapidly exploding church-planting movements around the world are multiplying without having physical church buildings. They’ve learned to spread out!
Buildings should be tools for ministry, not monuments. I’ve said repeatedly to our congregation that Saddleback will never build a building that could not be torn down if it prevented us from reaching more people. Churches should focus on building people, not building buildings! (Tweet that!) That’s what being purpose-driven is all about. It’s a people-building process. Build your people before your steeple.
One of the goals we set at Saddleback was to prove that you don’t need to build a building in order to grow a church. That’s why we waited until after our congregation was averaging more than 10,000 in attendance before we built our first building! I think we proved our point. Just because you are growing does not mean you should build a new or larger building.
I am absolutely opposed to building ANY size of facility that will only be used once or twice a week. It is poor stewardship of God’s money to build a facility just because the pastor wants to speak to everyone at one time.
In fact, here’s a little secret: Only pastors like really huge church services! I’d rather have a building of 200 and fill it with five services than have a 1,000-seat auditorium that is filled only once a week and then left empty the rest of the week. In fact, that’s what we’ve done. Saddleback’s campuses have buildings that might be considered large by many standards, but they’re actually smaller than the total attendance at each campus. We fill them multiple times, doing as many as six services per weekend in one location.
If you must build, I urge you to at least consider making it a multi-purpose facility. That is much better stewardship of resources. At Saddleback, as soon as our weekend services are over, the seating arrangement in our worship center is taken down and the building is used in a variety of ways every day of the week. This releases an enormous amount of space for programs and money for missions.
I can already hear the critics of this suggestion making a good point for “the grandeur and beauty of worship architecture.” Of course, I believe in architectural beauty as an aid to worship too. But at what cost? Can anyone seriously give a New Testament justification for billions of dollars spent on debt for sanctuaries that are used for only a couple hours a week – especially when so many around the world have yet to hear the Good News?
I encourage you to experiment and look for ways to reach and grow people faster and cheaper, without buildings. Don’t let traditional methodology, or brick and mortar – or the lack of it – keep you from focusing on what matters most – changed lives!