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Worship in the Modern World

Praising God with the Best of the Past and the Present

Does a Church Need a Building?

It seems that churches without traditional buildings are becoming more and more popular. Just the other day there was an article on the front page of USA Today about “instant churches” using schools as houses of worship. The article cited some interesting facts, including:

  • Of the five largest and five fastest-growing school districts in the continental USA, all 10 had granted permits for religious congregations to hold weekend worship.
  • A 2007 national survey of newly established Protestant churches found that 12% met in schools, according to LifeWay, a Nashville-based Christian research agency.

More and more, churches are realizing that using rented space is very beneficial for the congregation. At Journey, we’ve been a mobile church since the beginning in 2006, and it’s been a great thing for us. Our rental cost for the theater is far less than anything we could ever build or even rent permanently. Being in a theater has given us a major advantage over having a traditional church building in that, while we have worship happening, the public is coming in and out of the theater – our building. It would be difficult to build anything of our own where the public would come in on their own.

We make the best of not having a building. Sunday mornings, we setup at the theater. This includes the worship space, children’s ministry space, children’s check-in, child care, guest services and a cafĂ©. Wednesday evenings, we have a bible study at different restaurants and our offices each week. Small groups meet at our offices and in homes. We hold large meetings, events and special services at several different locations around town. Not being in our own building hasn’t slowed us down.

It seems like being a church without a building is the way to go!

Right?

I guess it depends on who you talk to…

In the last several months, I’ve heard – indirectly, of course – of a number of families who have left Journey, citing the fact that Journey doesn’t have a building as the reason they left. REALLY? Not having a building is a reason to leave a church?

What benefit could there be to owning our own building that could outweigh the benefits of being a portable church? Some things I’ve heard include:

  • “We could have potluck lunches after church.” No, I don’t think so. If you’re reading this and you’re at a church that does this and it works for you, great. However, I think there are better ways to do this. We encourage those at Journey to regularly and intentionally get to know others, especially those who are new, by inviting them to lunch after church. It’s an easy invite. It’s something that they’re likely planning on in some form. And because of our location, there are lots of options just minutes from the theater. A potluck after church can feel like an “insiders only” thing and it definitely discourages your first time guests from attending because they don’t feel prepared or feel bad because they don’t have anything to contribute.
  • “More people would come to church if we had a building that was ours.” That might seem true. Numbers might even back it up. But in reality, the people who are likely to attend because of a building are already Christians. Most churches grow largely by shuffling Christians around. Growing by “kingdom growth” (meaning, adding new Christians) is much rarer. At Journey, nearly 40% of all those who attend are either new or renewed Christians (renewed means they had no significant relationship with a church for around 10 years or more). We attribute much of that growth to our being out in the community and not in our own building.
  • “It will give us a sense of permanency/legitimacy.” Journey has been around since 2006. In that time, we have established ourselves at Celebration Cinema and as “the church at the movies.” Add to that the major impact made in our community through things like our yearly Extreme Home Makeover and Journey’s reputation in the community is that we are a church that does big things and makes a real difference in our community.

I’m not actually worried that people have left because we don’t have a building. If a church has a laser-focused mission, you’re not going to be exactly what everyone is looking for. Those who leave a mobile church because the church doesn’t have its own building probably aren’t leaving because of the building per se; it’s likely that they’re looking for some of the programs or offerings that a more traditional church would offer. If being a church without its own building allows us to reach less Christian “Church-hoppers” and more new Christians, then I’m more than happy to setup and tear down every week.

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