I received a great comment last week from Aaron who asked, “Should a church ever build a building or should it continue to meet in public space?” Since I’ve had a little experience with that, I want to respond with the seven conditions under which you should never build.
1. You should never build within the first five years. Without question, it takes at least three years to get a church planted. It takes three years to gain confidence, momentum, resources, and begin to gather a crowd. If you build too soon, it will be a case of the shoe telling the foot how large it can be. Building before five years almost always incurs a debt and it becomes staggering and limits the future ministry.
2. You never build when there’s something out there to rent or renovate. At The Gathering our prayer is, when we outgrow the theater, that God would provide in the Cool Springs area a warehouse or a building to renovate. That’s so that as the community and The Gathering both change, we have the flexibility to move over time. Don’t give up too soon. There are a lot of things out there.
3. You don’t build when you don’t have the money. There is a lot of controversy over whether a church should ever have debt. My belief has always been that you can leverage other people’s money and do it in a way that you protect the long term financial health of the church, but you get it built particularly if you’re in the situation where you have to get out of the space or you’re growing so rapidly that it’s hard to take the time to raise all the money you need. While I have to say that the older I’m getting the more I’m leaning toward waiting to build until you have the money, or at least being creative. We way too easily go out and put the church into heavy debt.
4. You don’t build in order to promote stability. Owning your own building has absolutely nothing to do with stability. Stability is a sign of the health of a church and the people in it, the health of the leadership and the confidence the people have in them. Stability is more an organic sign of health rather than some institutional form created by a building.
5. You never build in order to be seen as legitimate. How many times have I heard people say to me, “People would come if we had a building, because then we would seem legitimate”? That’s a bogus argument. You’re legitimate by whether or not people trust you and your message, you have something to offer, a promise to make that they can benefit from.
6. You don’t build until everyone supports it. I know by “everyone” not “everyone” is going to be for anything. We know that to be true. There is a big difference between having a building campaign take the church into debt just because the pastor and staff who think about this stuff all the time think it’s time. You need to garner support from all your influencers, your givers, people who make your church or organization happen.
7. You don’t build unless you understand the very fact that a building will force you to focus more inwardly. No one avoids this unless the people who realize that having land and a building leads a church toward being an institution that leans more on management and maintenance than vision and leadership.
Think about these seven conditions and give me some suggestions of your own.