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When NOT to Build

Our church doesn’t have a building. Obviously, we didn’t plan on being in a situation where a growing church had no building, but here we are. Now that we have enjoyed several years of spiritual prosperity and numerical growth we are actually asking ourselves how important a building really is.

We started our church’s financial roadmap by borrowing from the financial prioritization of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary over 100 years ago. Their spending priorities were simple and in this order: 1/Brains, 2/Books, and 3/Bricks. They started with an outstanding faculty, a good library, and with just enough money to rent an old warehouse. They grew. And grew. And grew.

In the same vein, we are operating our priorities here at MSBC. We have no building, but we are now seriously considering hiring our second full-time pastor. We have borrowed another outline from some church to express the same priorities in a different way: 1/Principle, 2/People, 3/Programs, and 4/Property. I have instinctively known this prioritization, have taught it, and have been rewarded by it. Our church enjoys an almost consistent 90% return from the Sunday morning congregation each Sunday evening and 70% return for the midweek prayer meeting. Translated: There is life at MSBC! We know of many other churches that have the facilities, but are weighted down with building burdens. Kingdom-building for them has become building maintenance.
Kingdom-building for us is almost exclusively (even with our dollars) people. Let’s keep it that way.

Yet, we need a new location, a new house for our church. There’s no doubt about it. Two toilets are simply not enough for more than 100 people. In the pursuit of a new house for our church, let’s remember that our priorities have been blessed by God.

1. Brains (as in people, not to suggest that either Mark or I are particularly brainy!)
2. Books (as in ministry material, outreach, and equipment)
3. Bricks (as in a roof over our heads)

Do we think that we can grow to several hundred without any building? Why not? If some dear soul gives us a building or we are providentially granted a nice facility, will we turn it down? Of course not.

Here’s a book those of you who are members at MSBC might want to check out. When NOT to Build by Architect Ray Bowman. His ideas are interesting. I found myself celebrating to find so much of what I have tried to say already written down. With all of the reading I have you doing I’m sure you’ll be able to find a moment to read this book! Have fun!


6 Responses

  1. As one on the cusp of a church planting endeavor, Lord willing, I find your post encouraging. Thank you!

  2. From When NOT to Build:

    Recently I visited with a wonderful retired couple from that congregation [a church that overbuilt and was always building burdened]. I knew something of the years of devoted service they had given the church, often behind the scenes. “We feel so privileged to have been a part of the ministry of the church,’ they told me. Then they went on to describe how they had been able to generously support the church’s building programs.

    Though I didn’t tell them, I was saddened by what they said. They had given their lives in loving service to God and others yet they measured their servanthood, not by the many lives they had touched with God’s love, but by dollars given to building programs.

  3. Bob:

    Your patience and steadfastness is to be commended. I Thess. 5:24 is true and will be shown if we allow God to work. I know you know this is true all you have to do is call for the one who calls you daddy!

  4. Our leadership team read through WNTB as well as “The Debt Free Church.” Both helped us form a solid financial philosophy. It’s not popular, but God bless your efforts…they’ll pay off in the long run.

  5. Been there, done that, Bob. In fact, I’m still there & still doing that.

    We planted Tri-County Bible Church 6.5 years ago. By God’s grace, it has grown significantly…spiritually, numerically, financially. (Psalm 115:1) Here’s how we’ve worked regarding facilities & priorities:

    1. We started as a daughter church, supported by the senders. Our first priority, then, was independence (including pastoral salary).

    2. We met (and still meet) Sunday AM in a high school auditorium which allows almost unlimited growth. Plenty of seats, classrooms, restrooms, etc. Ideal? No. But we’ve focused on people needs rather than facility needs all these years, and I think it’s been a help (at least until now).

    Other services? Park pavillions. YMCA. Community Center. Fine Arts Center. Homes. “Have church, will travel.” (sigh)

    3. We became independent, including giving at least a tithe of all income to missions & other church plants. No building? No problem. We’re a church, so let’s act like it. (18 mos. in)

    BTW, we know that’s not extremely generous, but it’s been a joy to support other church planters in Ohio, Cameroon, Panama & Germany. PTL!

    4. We bought a van & trailor for cash to help move stuff.

    5. We rented an office on the main street of town. Makes us visible & freed up a bedroom at my home for more babies. 🙂 (30 mos. in)

    6. We started saving toward a building.

    7. We bought 10 acres adjoining the school. Nice: visible, affordable, accessible, etc. Paid cash. Where did we get around $90K? I’m still not sure. The Lord is good. (5.5 years in)

    8. We’re budgeting aggressively toward our building program. However, we’re not opposed to getting a reasonable mortgage…one we can afford under our CURRENT giving (vs. a “if you build it they will come pay for it” mentality). One reason is stewardship…we’re paying plenty for rent.

    9. We’ve just hired an Assistant Pastor. We want a building so bad we can taste it, but we are determined that ministry will never take a back seat to facility. We waited longer than many “models.” We’re ministering to around 170. We didn’t hire until it was obvious that we had to.

    10. We’re working on plans toward our building, doing some site prep, praying that we can break ground next year…7+ years after our start. Shwew!

    Patience? More than I ever imagined we’d need back when we started. Lack of building has its challenges, but as you’ve indicated, it also helps you prioritize spiritual needs over physical & financial. That said, we’re very eager to have those “problems.”

    FWIW. What a joy to see the Lord “build His church!” 🙂

    p.s. I’ve read WNTB & appreciated it. Some meat, some bones, if I remember correctly.

  6. Chris,

    Thank you for the excellent testimony. We need to hear success stories like that. I was very encouraged.

    We are seeing the hand of God on this ministry likewise. I think it is appropriate to spread the word so that others will be strenthened even as I was to hear your history.

    Praise the Lord!

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