This will be my final article in this series of articles about understanding our unchurched friends and neighbors. This personal study has been very fruitful and eye opening for me, personally. If you’ve read along, I hope you feel the same.
In today’s piece, I want to address an item that I admit is more “superficial” than what we’ve discussed thus far. Therefore, if this is the first article you’ve read in this series of articles, I would ask that you scroll down to the bottom of this page and read parts 1-3 as well.
However, just because this may be spiritually less significant, it’s still important. In some of his final thoughts in his book, Thom Rainer gave some advice to churches about simple things to remember when trying to reach the unchurched individuals of their local communities. One “tip” that caught my eye dealt with church’s facilities.
For frequent church-goers, we’re used to our facilities. Depending on the age of our buildings and gathering places, we may have 50-60 years of memories. We just naturally know where things are and where things take place. We know about those “lost-and-found” closets. We know whose “pew” belongs to who, as though we had assigned seating. We don’t question where the bathrooms are. We know where our class meets. We know where to take our children during worship if they need to be trained. But for those who enter our building the first time, they don’t house that “hidden knowledge”. They don’t speak our church’s “slang” with acronyms for every ministry. They don’t get the inside jokes. How would you feel if you entered a church for the first time and that was your experience? You might say, “Wouldn’t bother me a bit. I don’t come to a church because of its building.” That second sentence I agree with—most people don’t enter our doors because of our facility. But that first statement isn’t right, even if you claim it is—it would bother you. It’s human nature.
And like it or not, our facility may not “bring” people in, but a deteriorating facility might keep people away.
Rainer quoted a woman who recalled her experiences before she became involved at a local church. Just read this excerpt from her story.
“I always thought I could handle any situation, but the idea of going to that church scared me to death. To make the situation worse, a light rain started falling on the way to church. I debated about going home, but I decided to push ahead. I was surprised to see the parking lot in deteriorating condition. I almost slipped on the grass growing in the cracks. And I was unable to find a parking place even remotely close to the building. I was already frustrated by the time I arrived, but when the front door was locked, I was livid. I finally found an open door that led to a maze of hallways with no directional signage. I walked for a few minutes before I finally found someone who told me where to take my daughter for Bible class. When I opened the door and saw one lady attempting to take care of twenty screaming preschoolers, I turned around and left. ‘Never again’ I told myself.” (Pg. 209-210)
She went on to explain more reasons why she never returned. Not only was she confused when she entered the building—not only did she fail to be greeted by someone at the church—she was 30 minutes late because the church’s meeting times on the sign were outdated. They had changed meeting times a few years back but didn’t care to change them outside. Sounds about right, doesn’t it? She eventually found another church, which she said, “Was completely different in every way.” And no, she wasn’t just talking about doctrine.
Now, I know what some readers may be thinking. “Hawk, you’ve got it all wrong and your priorities are in the wrong place. We shouldn’t care so much about our facilities.” Again, please re-read parts 1-3 of these series of articles. For those that question my motives, that shows where my heart really is. And you’re exactly right—our facilities cannot and should not be our biggest priority. But to say that we should ignore the importance of our facilities is ludicrous. They do matter. More than we often realize.
Some will say, “But preacher, the New Testament doesn’t even mention facilities. These churches most likely met in their homes.” Correct. But if we’re going to have a facility, we need to take care of it. We need to take pride in it. We need to keep it clean and updated. God’s presence isn’t contained in physical structures (Acts 17:24), but our facilities do represent our God. They belong to Him as they are funded with His money. Why do many congregations take less care of the Lord’s house than their own homes? Most likely, there are many in your church who update their houses frequently with new paint, new flooring, new plumbing etc, but when you ask them about updating the Lord’s house, they say, “That’s a waste of money.” And letting the Lord’s house crumble isn’t a waste of money? If we’re going to have facilities, we need to have the best facilities our budgets will allow. Not only in appearance, but functionality. It’s not just people who fail to be welcoming and warm.
God addressed this very thing in the book of Haggai, even though it was a different time with a completely different “building”. God condemned Israel in Haggai chapter 1 for not taking care of the temple. In verse 8 God commands them, “Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored…” And then He explains why in verse 9, “…my house remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house.”
Many church facilities (which really belong to God) are in ruin. Though we haven’t endured exile like the Haggai context, we haven’t taken care of our structures, and now it’s so costly to do so, we don’t even know where to start. And our communities notice every single day. What message does that send?
Listen, in the same way we want to make the Lord proud of our mission, let’s make Him proud of our property. Because like it or not, our properties can get in the way of our mission if they remain un-kept. Please understand, we don’t have to be the best looking place on the block. But dear church, let’s not be the worst.