As a young, energetic and playful boy I had the crazy notion that when my mom purchased new shoes and I slipped them on my feet that instantly and miraculously I would become endowed with extraordinary bursts of speed. I could feel the energy coursing through my veins. The wind swept through my hair as I burned up the hallway and backyard with my blinding speed. In some ways, I am still that energetic little boy filled with certainty and passion that I can run faster with my new shoes. But maybe that energy and passion can sing to a new tune.
The recent church fires in Alabama challenged and strengthened the faith of many believers. Witnessing an historic building being reduced to rubble was disheartening and discouraging. But Ashby Baptist Church found a glimmering truth in the smoke and ashes. Baptist press news offered this quote, “What an encouragement to have three new members and not even a building to meet in,” pastor Jim Parker remarked, “but that’s what the church is, isn’t it? It’s the people.”
What a profound idea, that the Church is the people and not a building. Church growth experts and pastors have surmised that certain campus and building requirements are prerequisites for numerical growth. A church complex must have adequate parking, ample educational space, comfortable and roomy worship seating and top-notch nursery facilities. All this talk about structure seems as if we have heard a voice calling out faintly, “Build it and they will come.” In actuality, we are on the verge of an edifice complex.
What is an edifice complex? It’s the notion that elaborate buildings facilitate numerical growth, and any church unwilling to accept this fact is destined to experience plateau and decline. When I see church structures and complexes that cost millions and millions of dollars I ponder the wisdom and necessity of these mega-campuses. Likewise, I question the small or medium church drowning in debt to build the biggest facility possible. I realize the circular argument that could develop from such thinking.
If you have a church of 10,000 or more people you must have a large facility to house that many people, so a large structure is a necessity. To not build or buy a mammoth structure is shortsighted, according to this wisdom, and limits the potential of growth for this local body of believers.
I wonder if by erecting such a complex the church is misallocating its resources and placing an undue emphasis on the structure. And now we are back where we started. So where do we go to resolve the issue?
Leaving our Western and American mindset behind for a moment might broaden our perspective and aid us in finding a resolution. There are churches in other countries that are forced to meet in houses or in secret because of the risk and danger inherent due to the political regime in control. They do not have comfortable meeting places, yet the gospel spreads like wildfire. It begs the question, what is really important for spreading the kingdom? Can the spread of the gospel be reduced and linked to the greatness of the meeting place?
To many, this probably appears as another attack on the megachurch and all its ills. But the edifice complex fits congregations of all shapes, sizes and ills: the small church longs for a more modern sanctuary; the medium church desires to build the new family life center; the church plant just wants to have some land and a building, period. This complex is common to multifarious congregations.
A recent survey of protestant ministers and churchgoers printed in the Western Recorder (a Kentucky Baptist publication) revealed a startling conclusion. If the church were to receive a sudden surge of income, the top priority for about one-third of ministers involved improving the current facilities. About half as many churchgoers agreed with the ministers. Campus beautification seems like the logical choice. Nice facilities reflect the greatness of God. Visitors will find comfort and convenience. Instead of being a hindrance, the facilities now become an entryway for the gospel. But this thinking is flawed.
The building is not the answer. Churches in lands of persecution disprove that theory daily. We need to inculcate a God-complex. Paul, in the first letter to the Corinthians, encouraged the believers to realize they are God’s field, God’s building. He further admonished them to carefully weigh the manner of building upon the foundation of Christ, for one day those works will be tested by fire, revealing the quality of each person’s work. The bulk of investment should be slated for God’s field and building, namely people. This does not intend to say a church must avoid having a building, but suffice it to say that a priority shift is necessary. So how can we instill a God-complex?
Here are a few suggestions for trampling an edifice complex and incarnating a God-complex.
• Invest in God’s field, God’s building, His living stones.
• Determine how to maximize the building while minimizing the cost.
• Become people and ministry driven, especially outside the four walls of the meeting place.
• Seek the counsel of the Lord through fervent prayer.
What size building does a church need? Have you succumbed to an edifice complex? What is your church’s top priority? Which temple is in need of repair and renovation, the structure or the soul? May the Lord lead us to erect a quality structure that withstands the fires of purification.