jonathan stone's blog

. . . posts on faith and life

does size really matter?

The sub-prime mortgage crisis and the receding economy have revealed at least one thing, we have probably overbuilt during the last several years. Some of the situations that builders find themselves in are terrible. One of my friends was telling me about one of his friends who has over ninety brand new houses on the market…and we all know what the current real estate market looks like. So, what’s this builder doing? He’s still building, naturally. Turns out that the day he stops building he stops getting his lending and the lenders start collecting.

Likewise, there seems to be a corresponding correction coming to many churches, ministries, and institutions. Administrators everywhere are scrambling in order to prepare for what they perceive to be a major correction. A friend of mine started a web design business several years ago. She found a niche and carved out a nice little monopoly for herself. When she first started she had to convince businesses and churches that they even needed a website. Things took off and she established not only a nice business, but a brand new, top quality building to go with it. Today that building is for sell. I have not spoken with her in some time now. So, I’m not sure what’s going on with the business. But I can’t help but wonder if she is also scrambling to get back in front of the curve. Today almost any kid with a basic home computer can build a pretty savvy website. I suspect her business model has changed, or it must change. And I also suspect that an expensive building is not in the future plans.

There is also a lavish piece of property recently opened and dedicated that is owned and operated by a well known evangelist. I have not been in it, but I have some friends that are huge fans of his. They have given sad reports of attending special events and services there and the place being almost completely empty. They don’t know if he is struggling or not. But they worry that he is. I think about that every time I pass by (or I should say under) his towering ministry center with its empty parking lot. Again, I don’t mean to sound critical of these cases. I really don’t know what’s going on with them. It’s just that all around there seems to be these little signs that some serious downsizing (pruning) is coming.

Steve Parrish recently asked the question on his REPlant Blog: Why own church property? He notes the reasons that most businesses choose to lease instead of own as strong reasons for churches to consider leasing options as well. You should check it out. It seems to me that in light of the current downsizing of our economy in general, churches would want to think twice before launching into a new building (though I balance that by saying that we are successfully navigating a huge building campaign at my church).

Still, besides the practical timing issues of our current economy, I wonder with Steve if a church building is always even necessary? I wonder if it’s always the best model? I wonder what changes we would make without our buildings? I wonder what might change in our concept of what it really means to be church in the first place? I wonder what other options are out there?

20 comments on “does size really matter?

  1. Johnny Taylor
    April 8, 2008

    Jonathan,

    Random thoughts:

    Churches for too long have focused on getting a building as soon as they can in order to create some level of visibility in the community in order for potential growth. Are the days of “if you build it, they will come” over?

    Perhaps the economic issues that are affecting us will force the church out of the building and into the community.

    Is it pleasing to God to put so much money in a building and its upkeep instead into caring for people. I remember a time in Acts, when the needs were all met by people giving to people.

    Maybe the church should only take on the responsibility of a building if it will truly serve the community in which it resides. We are currently asking the question, “what if the church building primarily exist to serve the community instead of the church.” What if the building was owned by God, stewarded by the church, and used by the community?

    I know, I know, crazy talk!

    jet

  2. Steve Parrish
    April 8, 2008

    Jonathan – thanks for the comments on REPLant, and for this article. lots of truth here. we are in a building project, but we did attempt to lease in the process. the way the doors opened and closed, building was the best option. we did construct the building in the fashion of a strip mall with no load bearing walls so that in the unfortunate event we can’t make it work, it will be very attractive as a commercial retail site. churches the develop facilities that can only be used as a church really limit potential buyers in the event that the building needs to be sold for good or bad reasons.

    hope you don’t mind, we added you to our blog roll. you always have great stuff here.

  3. Don
    April 8, 2008

    You sure know how to pick sore subjects! For me, this is high on the list. Since there are pastors that read this, let me throw my two cents in, based on business experience.

    The church has a mission. The purpose of the building you own, rent or whatever is to serve that mission. Anything a church does in terms of physical plant needs to contribute to the fulfilment of that mission, and to do so in an economically sensible way. That means that not only do you consider what you need to do but how often you need to do it. Why add an expensive feature to a building you only use once or twice a year?

    One recurring mistake I see in church buildings (and we also see this all too often in other non-profit organisations, and certainly the government) is the inclusion of underutilised features.

    As far as own vs. rent, from a pure business standpoint, the only reason to own property is if you think the property will appreciate more than the rate of inflation. Everything else is simply a cost of operation.

    Remember: the money you put into physical plant represents resources that can’t be put into people and resources for direct ministry. Allocate your resources wisely, or your church building will become your church’s tomb.

  4. jason
    April 8, 2008

    Jon,

    As I respond to your post, I sit in my office with a huge poster of a master plan layout leaning against my wall.

    The best idea regarding the balance of a church building I have heard is “excellence not extravagance.”

    Thats part of the struggle with our current project. We dont need a “cadillac” church building. I really thik a lot of people will have some explaining to do regarding how they wasted money on a church building.

    Just to sweeten the pot here’s an added spin. In my research I have been unable to find any churches in the eastern US that have built “green building” or energy effecient buildings. Is there an environmental stewardship responsibility for churches in this regard? Should we lead and show others how care for God’s earth is displayed in our construction? What do you think?

  5. jason
    April 8, 2008

    Jon,

    As I respond to your post, I sit in my office with a huge poster of a master plan layout leaning against my wall.

    The best idea regarding the balance of a church building I have heard is “excellence not extravagance.”

    Thats part of the struggle with our current project. We dont need a “cadillac” church building. I really think a lot of people will have some explaining to do regarding how they wasted money on a church building.

    Just to sweeten the pot here’s an added spin. In my research I have been unable to find any churches in the eastern US that have built “green building” or energy effecient buildings. Is there an environmental stewardship responsibility for churches in this regard? Should we lead and show others how care for God’s earth is displayed in our construction? What do you think?

  6. jason
    April 8, 2008

    Jon,

    Sorry for the double post. I am still on my blog honeymoon and I guess I just got over excited.

  7. Don
    April 8, 2008

    Jason: there’s a lot of buzz in the engineering community (I’m an engineer by profession) about “green” buildings. That doesn’t always translate into good PR, but it’s important.

    I think a more sensible approach is to look at it from an economic standpoint. We are both stewards of the earth in general and of the money that God has entrusted us specifically in the church. If we use both wisely, both will do well for us.

    We are entering, IMHO, a period of elevated energy prices. By reducing the energy consumption of the church, you also reduce your operting costs, which will do wonders for your budget.

    I would pursue a church design that does both.

    Also: churches have a lot of dead space that doesn’t do much during the week, but is heated, cooled and (sad to say) lit. Think about that in your church design.

  8. Jonathan Stone
    April 8, 2008

    Johnny, great thoughts. And I think there is a growing chorus of pastors that want to think practically and manage things well, as you are thinking. That will include efficiency, management, and making the main thing the main thing (like pouring our resources into people first). And as far as this statement: “…owned by God, stewarded by the church, and used by the community?” Awesome!

  9. Jonathan Stone
    April 8, 2008

    Thanks, Steve. I will be reciprocating the link love. In fact, I have been meaning to add REPlant to my blogroll for over a week now, but you know how things roll sometimes!

    Also, like your insight into resale. I know that we will be selling our current building, which is a standard, large church facility that was built thirty-some years ago. It really limits interested buyers! Lucky for us we live in a town where there are a ton of churches, and at any given point some of them are looking to relocate and ‘upgrade’ in size. Perhaps even luckier for us, our building sits on a prime piece of property right on the corner of the main thoroughway in town. So, I think we’ll be alright. But similarly sized churches in a different town and different location would have a huge obstacle on their hands.

  10. Jonathan Stone
    April 8, 2008

    Don, I love the practical thinking along the lines of effeciency and some very basic management principles. It seems ironic to me that during the last few decades we have had all of these gifted business persons sitting in our congregations, and yet have often failed to operate within these basic management parameters. I hope that is changing. From the sounds of the things that I am reading here and elsewhere I think it is. I don’t know what got us in that in the first place. Perhaps we overspiritualized physical growth and space. Perhaps we were insensitive to environmental issues. Perhaps we were trying to keep up with the culture. Actually, I’m quite certain it was a combination of these and other things. But I have hope that things are shifting.

  11. Jonathan Stone
    April 8, 2008

    Jason, glad your excitement has made you ‘clicker-happy’!

    You bring a much needed twist to the conversation here. I have a vision that the Church would become the most efficient (I’m not talking only about environmentalism, but general management and organization as well) entity on the planet. I also have a vision/desire that Westmore would be a leader in showing how that can be done. I like how Don thickened the point with the issue of operating costs. I think our church is dynamic enough that we can build a building that is in constant use, with a steady movement of people on, in, and through the campus, and with a minimal amount of space that sits dormant throughout the week. I am sure that that will require more planning and more cost up front, but will reap huge benefits as we move into our 21st century calling. I’m curious, how much of this stuff is ‘still on the table’ for us? And what is the best way for a member like me to get involved?

  12. travis johnson
    April 8, 2008

    I need to dig it up. But, this week, I came across a new study showing that Pentecostal mega churches spend more money per parishioner than any other mega-church group. While we only have 3 mega churches that I know of in the COG USA, I think it does illustrate our fascination with materialism in the Church.

  13. Jonathan Stone
    April 8, 2008

    Very interesting Travis! Please dig that up and share!

  14. Jonathan Stone
    April 8, 2008

    Johnny, check out the discussion on ‘dashboards’ over on missionalcog where I just posted with a quote from your post here. I think you could add some helpful things there!

  15. Don
    April 8, 2008

    One thing I shoud add: when doing an economic analysis for a commercial building, one compares the present value of energy efficient enhancements in a building with the amortised savings of those enhancements.

    However, with churches one thing should be added: it’s easier to raise money for the building than for the operating expenses of the church. Everyone knows that the financial low point of any campmeeting or revival is when someone gets up and receives the offering “for expenses.” People just don’t get excited about expenses.

    My point: it’s better to err on the side of energy efficiency in a new church structure, since there is going to be some uncertainty in an economic analysis.

  16. jason
    April 8, 2008

    Well Jon, I’m glad you asked! WE HAVE SEVERAL DIFFERENT CIRCLES OF GIVING THAT CAN ALLOW YOU, JOE MEMBER, TO BE INVOLVED. I WOULD LIKE YOU TO “PRAYERFULLY CONSIDER” BEING A PART OF OUR SUPER PLATNUM DOUBLE HONOR HARVEST-SEED SOWER CIRCLE. BY BEING A MEMBER FOR $250,000 YOU WILL RECEIVE A VILE OF HOLY WATER FROM THE RIVER JORDAN. THE SAME RIVER JESUS WAS BAPTIZED IN CAN BE YOURS IF YOU ACT NOW! BLAH BLAH BLAH PUKE.

    There’s a lot still on the table. There is an enormous amount of consideration for needs vs future needs and having a building that isnt only used on Sunday’s. (the lodge is a great example. It is used almost 6 days a week) As far as being involved- I really want to emphasize creative ways of giving. We are currently holding ebay auctions of things people dont use and the $ goes to the new building. Also, we’re looking at a scrap gold drive, where people bring their old jewelry (not COG people, they dont have jewelry) and we sell it to a Jeweler. There are some other things we’re looking at too.
    In response to the post regarding raising building funds vs operational funds, I have found it easier to raise operational funds. If the daily operations include the different forms of benevolence like helping homeless, feeding the hungry, clothing for the needy and missions, it seems people who are disenfranchised with the 1990’s version of fat salary preachers will respond more to an opportunity to give if their gifts are appropriately used. Just my opinion.

  17. Don
    April 8, 2008

    Jason: I agree with you if operational expenses include “the different forms of benevolence like helping homeless, feeding the hungry, clothing for the needy and missions.” I was thinking about the electric and gas bill!

  18. Jonathan Stone
    April 9, 2008

    Jason, those are some great ideas on creative fundraising. I had heard the announcement about eBay, but had not heard about the scrap gold drive.

    I wonder if you could do something to allow the congregation to submit ideas for creative fundraising? We could email our ideas to Pastor Jason, and each week on Sunday morning you could list off some of the top ideas that came in that week. Perhaps it could get everyone’s creative juices flowing, as well as make them feel like they were contributing in some way to the process. I’m a firm believer that people (even ones who have deliberately sought out a larger church that they can ‘hide’ in) have a desire to be a vital participant to whatever they ‘belong’ to. I think it could increase some ‘buy in’ for some folks.

    If that goes well, then I would suggest finding something else to open up to the members. Perhaps some of these ideas about ‘going green’ with the building? Or ideas for some ‘lay driven ministries?’ A lot of these people only ever show up at our church for about 60-90 minutes a week. If we want to give them an opportunity to participate we will probably have to give them these ‘little’ opportunities during the Sunday service. Huge amounts of social capital can be built in a congregation our size by starting with some random, even stupid, ideas like these and then letting people run with it. What do you think?

  19. Don
    April 9, 2008

    Jon: you’ve hit on one of the main rationales of lay ministries: to make people participants in the life of the church rather than mere spectators. Much of the focus is on what lay people might do for those ministries which are contained in the pastor’s “vision.” But give people some sense of ownership in the church and they’ll be more willing to do the stuff the pastor thinks needs to be done. And they might go further and do some great stuff the pastor didn’t think of!

    One more thing: in the CoG, as a pastor your statistics have your name and the name of your church. Your laity, properly activated, may go out and win people for Christ and add to your membership, but upstairs you’ll be the one to get the credit! That may not be very noble, but it doesn’t hurt either!

  20. Jonathan Stone
    April 9, 2008

    Don, interesting, while you were commenting on this I was posting once again on laity (see ‘Waste management’). I promise I’m not trying to get a job over there with you guys! ; )

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This entry was posted on April 8, 2008 by in sustainability, trends, vision.
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