I realize that there are many ways in which this post could be misread, so let me begin by stating a couple of things I’m not intending. I don’t mean that church is only a building, or that people can’t have a church service without a building. I’m not saying that churches with buildings are better than churches which meet in homes, schools, or under bridges, for that matter. I’m not saying that God doesn’t work in His people in all kinds of places, or that having a building unquestionably facilitates worship. Agree to disagree with me on this, but I’m saying that church buildings matter.
I’ve had this on my mind lately because our church, City Pres, recently entered into a lease-to-own agreement on this building in downtown Oklahoma City:
It’s beautiful, isn’t it? As I walked around the inside with other members of the music team and leadership team on Sunday, I was struck by how much work needs to be done, but also by what a good God we serve to give us something so fitting for the ministry we are trying to accomplish. I was, and am, both excited and terrified- excited to see what God will do in these walls for years to come, and terrified because I know the implications of having our name attached to such a significant landmark in our city. With great blessing comes great responsibility. And we’re a bunch of imperfect people who don’t always handle responsibility well. So why have a building?
I’d first like to argue that our bodies affect our souls, just as our environment affects our attitudes. While I don’t think that church should be an emotionally manipulative experience, I do believe that God cares about beauty. He could have made an ugly world, but he chose to make it beautiful, for his own pleasure and enjoyment. We are created in His image, so it’s not too much of a stretch to say that we are meant to enjoy beautiful things, as well. I can remember a time in the not-so-distant past when my heart was far from God. As I sat with my arms crossed on the back row of a gorgeous Methodist church and viewed the stained glass, I physically felt my body become less tense. A church building does not automatically cultivate a love for God, but it certainly makes a soft heart toward Him more plausible because worship is a sensory experience. As Winston Churchill once said, “We shape our buildings, and then our buildings shape us.”
“Love the City.” God called His people to do that in the Old Testament: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you, and pray on its behalf, for in its welfare, you find your welfare” (Jer. 29:7). Two thousand years later, God’s calling still stands to His people. There have been ways that, by His grace, we could love the city in our temporary meeting place. However, having a permanent location will allow us to open our doors more often. When church buildings lie dormant except for on Sundays, members miss out on opportunities to reach out to their communities by hosting fitness classes, providing meeting rooms or office spaces, staging a disaster relief area, or welcoming in people who might not otherwise step foot inside a church.
In the Old Testament, God’s children also had a practice of building altars as commemorations of what God had done for them in a specific place. The Israelites needed a physical reminder of God’s goodness because they were a forgetful people. But really, aren’t we also forgetful? Our church buildings today can stand as “ebenezers”- as tangible reminders that God is present and active in our land.
I recently returned from a mission trip to Trujillo, Peru. Our team worked in some highly impoverished neighborhoods- neighborhoods in which you and I would never hope to find ourselves living. In one such neighborhood, right in the middle, stands this building:
I’ve seen it on five different trips now, and I still can’t get over it. This church is a center of hope, a place of refuge for the townspeople. Everyone knows that this is the one building in town which can help them find access to their basic needs, find healing for physical and spiritual ailments, and ultimately, find Christ. Though our church building in downtown OKC is surrounded by people whose basic needs are generally met, people still have broken hearts, and people still need Jesus. City Pres, like the church building in Trujillo, has a unique opportunity to be a center of hope and a place of refuge to a hurting world.
A church building should not be the main focus of a congregation, but I believe that we serve a God who cares about the details, too. “The main thing isn’t the only thing that matters.” Lord, help us to be good stewards.