Sunday, September 1, 2013

Church building or people

Some observations on a few of our recent church visits. Each of these several churches we visited were leasing worship space. One meets in a store front in a strip mall right next to a restaurant on one side and a financial services office on the other. It has a small office and childcare space and seating for about one hundred. Another church has recently finished remodeling the worship space. It has state of the art video and audio technology, stadium seating and a large platform in the front. The last church left their building (the diocese owned it so they could not sell it) and leased space in an office park. They completely redid it and fashioned a simple yet profound worship space that appeals to all your senses. It is open and bright with seating in a semi-circle. You can clearly see what is going on up front and you are close enough to the worship action that you feel included. There is a large fellowship area immediately outside the sanctuary with table and chairs and a welcome/information station for visitors (visitors are clearly in mind during the service, too, where everything is explained either by the pastors or on the screen). Coffee is served and the donations support a mission in Honduras. There are   surrounding the fellowship center. There is childcare, and a children's program during the morning worship hours. There is no traditional Sunday School but there is an educational program midweek for all ages, and small groups, and special interest groups like a men's breakfast, and a senior luncheon. There are larger events that focus on social issues. There is an ongoing series called Christ and culture that asks what Christ has to say to the social issues of our time. This month the focus is race and how the church can be involved when racial tensions surface as they have in response to the verdict in the Zimmerman trial.  There are still loads of big, beautiful church buildings here in Florida. Most of the churches are not leasing space. (In downtown Jacksonville, the First Baptist Church takes up several blocks! of prime real estate in center city.) But, it seems to me these churches that have moved out of buildings - or never had one- are on to something. They are debt free and free of many maintenance issues older buildings face, and they can share space with others, ie, such as parking which is plentiful on Sunday because it is not being used by the other tenants. Money that is not spent on buildings can be used for ministry and mission. It is a model being used by some churches and I think in these increasingly tight economic times it makes sense. As we like to say, the church is people not the building.