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Church Buildings – Bigger Barns? — 30 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for writing this Maurice! A while back I heard someone in church say, "God is happy when we spend lots of money on the church building." Those within hearing range all agreed, except for me. I remembered this passage:

    "But that same night the Lord said to Nathan,

    5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord has declared: Are you the one to build a house for me to live in? 6 I have never lived in a house, from the day I brought the Israelites out of Egypt until this very day. I have always moved from one place to another with a tent and a Tabernacle as my dwelling. 7 Yet no matter where I have gone with the Israelites, I have never once complained to Israel’s tribal leaders, the shepherds of my people Israel. I have never asked them, “Why haven’t you built me a beautiful cedar house?”’ 2 Samuel 7:4-7 NLT

    As you say many churches used to be in homes, and home churches are still Biblical. I have even heard of churches selling their buildings so they could use that money for evangelism. To me that makes perfect sense. I was working as a Bible Worker one day in a church, where the self appointed decorating coordinator had placed some furniture she bought with her own money, right in front of the literature rack, making it awkward and difficult for people to see and reach for the literature. I pointed this out to her, and suggested moving it out of the way of the literature rack. She refused to move it, and to this day when I go back to visit it is still there in the way.

    I believe with God, evangelism comes before buildings and furniture. Thanks again Maurice for your timely article!

  2. I agree that church should be open to the community as part of its purposes. It is amazed me that many churches are half empty during the Sabbath services. In some cases I feel that most of churches are dead in N. America. There is no live heart in them. The sermon was given to promote the love of Christ. However, the responses from the congregation is dead quite. I recently travel to China and see a complete different picture on the so-called church. It is only a run-down apartment that government is getting to tear it down. There is no other rooms except one small kitchen with a single stove. During the Sabbath this kitchen serves more than 100 people in a less than 1200 ft2 area. People sometime stands for the sermon. I wish I can see the same at our roomy and comfortable churches in N. America.

  3. Isaiah 56:7 and Matthew 21:13 both say "MY House", shall be called a house of prayer. God being the omnipotent owner of the universe, can do as He pleases. Even though He says, "I change not". Do we take liberties because the results seem to warrant it?

    • Isaiah 56:7 reads:these I will bring to my holy mountain
      and give them joy in my house of prayer.
      Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
      will be accepted on my altar;
      for my house will be called
      a house of prayer for all nations.”

      Maybe our perception of prayer as an act of kneeling quietly while someone goes through a series of "prayerful" words needs a bit of revison. I like to think of prayer as a time for two way communication. Recently our church started having breakfast before church. Eating together is a really great time because that is when you can really "fellowship". You talk to one another, and listen and suddenly you find that you are learning about your fellow Christians that attend your own church. You find out that someone is lonely, that another one is sick, someone else is questioning their faith, and so on. Those are real prayers, and listening is also praying.

      How many times do you find the early Christian church breaking bread together? And where did they do it? In their home church.

      Movements occur where disciples of Jesus mingle, sympathise, meet meeds, invite and make disciples who multiply within their relational of community streams. Peter Roennfeldt, Following Jesus

  4. Let us not forget that God did accept the temple in Solomon's time as His place. Have we not already established that it is not a sin to be rich if it is God's will like Abraham or Solomon. The problem is if we use something including a beautiful church to bring glory to ourselves instead of God. Then we have a problem. A simple church is best if we cannot avoid selfish pride or even a home church.

    What would Jesus do today if He saw people playing sports in His sanctuary? Did not Jesus drive out the money changers and are sports not also worldly activities? When a church is dedicated is not the sanctuary dedicated to be a special place to worship God and to be reverent?

    Definitely the church should be used seven days a week. Let people attend for prayer meetings, seminars on outreach and many good things. Other rooms like the basement or fellowship area could be used for various activities like teaching English to foreigners.

    • I am not really worried about the cost of church buildings. What does worry me is the isolationism of the model of building that we have essentially inherited. We need to put into practice the notion that we often quote: "Our church is not the building but the people". When we put people first we will find an appropriate building.

    • I am happy you pointed to Solomon's temple and how the place we worship God should be utilised. Traditional churches have a church building and a church hall which is some distance from the church. This is to reinforce that where we worship God is a sacred place. I agree that playing basketball and other communal activities in the church would certainly shock Jesus. (Not your words)

      • King Solomon's Temple is probably not a model for the modern church. Reading about the dedication takes a strong stomach:

        And Solomon offered a sacrifice of peace offerings, which he offered unto the Lord, two and twenty thousand oxen, and an hundred and twenty thousand sheep. So the king and all the children of Israel dedicated the house of the Lord.
        The same day did the king hallow the middle of the court that was before the house of the Lord: for there he offered burnt offerings, and meat offerings, and the fat of the peace offerings: because the brasen altar that was before the Lord was too little to receive the burnt offerings, and meat offerings, and the fat of the peace offerings.
        And at that time Solomon held a feast, and all Israel with him, a great congregation, from the entering in of Hamath unto the river of Egypt, before the Lord our God, seven days and seven days, even fourteen days 1 Kings 8: 63-65.

        I could get descriptive and describe the sight,sound and smell of 142,000 animals being killed and parts of their bodies being burned. I doubt that many of us want our places of worship being turned into a slaughter house.

        I am not trying to be facetious. I just want us to think about how we could best use our church buildings today. And yes we may need to rethink some of our ideas about dedication and reverence.

    • I'm not sure that gets to the heart of why Christ drove out the money changers. At the bottom of it, they were taking advantage of the service and of their position to enrich themselves at the expense of those they were supposed to serve. Other factors may play into it as well, but fundamentally it was greed and taking advantage.

  5. We tend to build our expensive churches away from commercial areas and on the outskirts of the towns. Would it not serve us, the community, and our purpose as a church (evangelism) to rent one of the many inexpensive downtown storefronts and set up a center of influence? Hosting community activities such as cooking for health classes, Fitness programs, smoking and drug abatement, even providing a comfortable seating area with a bookshelf filled with inspirational material, Parenting classes, Anger management counseling, food pantry the possibilities are practically endless! We build pretty churches and expect people to come to us, but That is not the model Jesus showed us. Christ's method alone will truly meet needs and then change hearts!

    • I agree Dave, but that sort of activity requires commitment. It can work though. Locally several of our churches operate a Foodbank system for the needy. Some years ago churches in the Sydney area operated health clinics. My great aunt who was a retired nurse helped run one of them. Another initiative run locally is a group called Crankt. Essentially it is a Mountain Bike club that gathers up a group of local young men who are a bit short on things to do on a Sabbath afternoon and they take them up in the hills for a bike ride. The results of this initiative have been really heartwarming.

  6. I agree with Earl. When we build our church for the Glory of God we should give our best, it’s not to gain prestige. The reverence of the house of worship should also be kept without question because God is Holy. Brother & sisters in China worship in house or underground cellars because they are not free to worship in their country, but I’ sure they are dying to to build a proper house of worship for the Lord.

    • I have been to a Seventh-day Adventist Church in China. While there are restrictions and they have to share their church with other denominations, they are a vibrant witness to the love of Jesus. When we were there they were celebrating a wedding on Sabbath afternoon. They do not have use of the church at other times of the week. Language was a bit of a problem but I can still recall the tears in the eyes of a young woman who hugged my wife in welcome and said, "Sister, Sister!"

      • I am urgently seeking consecrated advice on the matter of eating in the church. I understand clearly that the church in NT times refers to people more than to buildings and that it's best not to eat in the sanctuary. I belong to a relatively young company of about 50 regular believers who sacrificed passionately like the two-mite widow to build a church. Sabbath meals were eaten in the house in which they worshiped prior to using the current building.
        Many members have no SDA family. Sabbath meals at house church provided a non threatening environment to clarify doctrinal and SDA life-style issues. On removal to the new building some new members (not new to Adventism) strongly objected to eating in the sanctuary.

        Are fellowship meals part of stewardship. The building is one box, a tiny vestry and an even smaller children's division. It's beautiful and worship-worthy but there are no other rooms in which to eat. When tents are rented the "new" members object to them being errected early Sabbath morning, if they are errected on Fridays they are not secure from thieves and the renter is responsible for damage/losses. Did not the Sanctuary system have six yearly feasts? Was a wall or curtain the no-cross line for eating meals. There is a plan to construct a hall, but while the grass is growing the horse is starving. What biblical advice would you give?

        • Many small churches do not have all the separate rooms for different activities. These smaller churches usually do not dedicate their main room as a sanctuary but rather they us it as a multi-purpose room where many things happen. Bible study, family nights, church services, meals, fundraisers all happen in the same place because they have not "dedicated' or set it aside for the sole purpose of worship.With your church's plans to someday build a hall...the main room could later be 'set apart" for God's service.

        • And as a side note.....When a fellowship offering was brought to the temple, the sacrifice was made, cooked and eaten with a priest who represented God's presence. This meal was eaten there in the courtyard of the temple. Sooo..If God himself sanctioned a meal within the temple to symbolize fellowship between himself and man....does this mean it is our own tradition rather than God's order that we follow?

          • For the worshipper, it may have been different--a sacrificial meal, and the priest certainly needed to keep that in mind, but part of God's plan was for it to literally be part of the food supply--part of the income--of the priest. It was his meal.

        • I do not wish to become prescriptive about specific details, but I want to raise the bar on thinking about how we can best use our resources for worship. As I pointed out in my original post, much of our liturgy is related to the large building concept that developed after AD300 and we have forgotten the rich heritage of the "home church" which was the focus of the early church. I have experienced the blessing of adopting some of the features of the early church; cost-effective; better opportunities to develop relationships etc. I recognise that today we are not in the same situation as the early church but it may be to our benefit to consider what they did and why they did it.

          I appreciate what Dave Ratlinger has said above. Great ideas for a church community.

          • Some of us obviously are not of the same persuasion. I would ask, does anyone know what dedication in a church means? The SDA churches that I have been to, dedication services mean that we are dedicated to God and His presence. For those that are more liberal; an assumed dual purpose is acceptable. Not a judgment, but a difference of opinion. We allow another church facility to use our sanctuary on Sundays that that denomination needs. Does that create less reverence in our services? It shouldn't. That is part of the discussion. A major part of our belief system is Sabbath observance. That is also another lengthy discussion. BTW I am a bird lover and observer also

            • The words dedication and consecration carry with them the notion of setting aside for a purpose. And I understand the reticence of some to change the model. The churches I know that use their churches as community centers do not dedicate their churches. That does not stop them from having uplifting services on Sabbath, and making their building available to the community for the rest of the week. It is a different mindset though and for those of us who are used to the special purpose building, only used for Sabbath services, it is a bit of a challenge. For those of us who have had to meet for church in school rooms, public halls, and industry warehouses though, we are already used to the idea of sharing.

              Perhaps we should think of dedicating our congregations rather than our buildings. Here is a story we can think about. A British couple dedicated themselves to education in Africa when they were quite young. They were well off and built buildings and filled a library with books, hired teachers and then taught with vigor and enthusiasm for the rest of their lives. There school was renown for the quality of its education. They were so dedicated they never went back home to England. Both of them died there in their nineties at the school. One of their teachers went back to the school 5 years after the last one of the couple died to see how it had fared. The buildings were derelict, the books scattered. He visited the graves of the couple and even the graves were unkempt. But everywhere this teacher went in that country, he met men and women who had been educated there and who were the decision makers, teachers and community leaders. The buildings were not all that important; it was the people who mattered.

  7. Thank you Maurice, how can one get more information about the U3A program? I feel that it may be something our local church here in PNG may greatly benefit from.

    • Hi Stephanie,

      U3A stands for the University of the Third Age. It is a secular movement in Australia to engage with older folk and provide them with opportunities for education and recreation. The topics and study areas are wide ranging and vary with both time and location depending on the availability of personnel to run them. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is only involved locally in so far as it provides locations when requested. In our area where there are about seven Adventist churches there are of course lots of buildings that are only used one day a week. I am personally involved in a U3A course as an instructor for the bird observation and photography course. Mostly we just walk in the bush looking for birds. It is a really great way to connect with people, and we don't need a building to meet in.

      If you are interested in the U3A organisation the best approach would be to do a search for U3A using Google or similar. There is a wealth of information available on line.

      As far as I know there is no U3A group in Papua New Guinea, although there is no reason why interested people could not start one up. Hope that helps.

  8. This reminds me of my time as a student cancassing with books in the northern part of Scandinavia. We came into contact with pentecostal believers. Seeing we were moving about with our tent, they kindly invited us to use their church, including the kitchen in the basement. They did this for reasons of holy hospitality (Hebrews 13:2). For reasons of the holiness related to the house of worship this had been denied to us in a city of my own home country, so we had to hire a room for costs that devoured our earnings, leaving but little for paying our school fees --- way back then.

    Today we offer our house of worship to refugees in open day meetings, caring or children of refugees and meeting with other churches for prayer. I think it is sound to think of a multiple use of the house of worship, although this may have limits. Should there be such limits, our own home may be an alternative inasmuch as the house of worship cannot be used for all and everything.

    Winfried Stolpmann

  9. I have been tremendously blessed by weekly Sabbath pot-lucks at my home but
    on implementing the Discipleship Study Guide seating space has become a straight jacket and my plumbing bills have skyrocketed. A member opined that he would attend our church for truth on Sabbath and another denomination within walking distance on Sunday, for Spirit. Some think their door-posted notices tacky. True It's a "Bigger Barn"but open freely to youth with a basket ball court in the car park and free electrical, computer, music and sewing classes. We cannot "undedicate" our church and morph it into a multipurpose hall. Is the car park the equivalent of the Outer Court in the Sanctuary System where the feasts and lamb eating occurred? When David and Solomon built bigger barns the Israelites were institutionalized and their mission melted. Do stewards morph into something else on Sabbath? Will we allow The Good News to become fake news and burry the one talent by refusing to use the rod we have in our hand?

    I deeply appreciate your comments.

  10. What a comment! Here in Africa and in Kenya SDA churches are all fundraising to build churches.They spend most of their time in building committees and looking for donors.It is a satanic trap that gives us no time for evangelism.

  11. Maurice, I really appreciate your thought provoking commentary and agree with you. What follows is a potpourri of comments related to it for thought:

    1. What does dedication mean and where does it come from? While there is some support for the concept in the OT, I don't know of anything comparable in the NT (possibly because the early Christian Church was mostly home based). But what we have inherited today is primarily from the medieval church--a mystical concept that makes the building somehow different as if wood and stone could be altered. It seems like a parallel to transubstantiation, the idea that the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ. It also reminds me of a recent visit to Jerusalem and their explanation that the Western Wall was the closet remains of the temple to the Most Holy Place, and therefore God through His shekhinah glory resided in that wall. I think we need to make sure we understand dedication, as well as whether it is appropriate/valuable/useful.

    2. God is honored when we give Him our finest. Solomon's temple was very extravagant. This was not necessarily bad (or good).

    3. Another topic that raises a lot of controversy is reverence. Traditionally we have been taught to be "reverent" in church. But I'm not sure we really understand the word. I don't believe God wants us to be quiet or calm all the time. I think He would like us to get excited about Him. To praise Him. Anyone for taking seriously the Psalm that says "Make a joyful noise"? There is definitely support for this in the Bible.

    4. The OT stories about worship centered almost entirely on large-scale corporate worship. Even the synagogue is primarily a NT feature. There was only one temple for the whole nation of Israel, and almost all reference to worship in the OT centers around it and national gatherings and special services. Basing too much of our theology of worship on that is bound to give us a distorted view. Where was the local congregation? What did they do?

    5. I like the references to the synagogue; the fact that it was a community center, and was used very differently than the (one and only) temple. I think there are ideas there to draw on.

    6. Undedicating. What do we do when we sell a church (or even abandon one). We have no control over what later people do in our dedicated building? How does that fit this conversation?

    7. I was part of a congregation that was building a church. There were some who advocated building a gym for the school instead and holding church in there, and making it a community center. I admit I was not in favor of the idea, not because of any holiness notion or dedication of the building (or not). My concern was that my mind could easily be distracted on Sabbath morning sitting listening to a sermon while looking at the basketball hoops I had played in on Tuesday night. This is not a theological issue, but a practical one.

    8. I really resonate with the inefficiency of a church being closed most of the time. First, it would seem that it should be a place of worship, available all the time, although I understand the logistic issue that entails, especially in our world. Second, I believe it should be as available to the community, for any reasonable purpose, as possible so people connect with it and are familiar with it and its members. I don't think God desires its focus to be as narrow as we often make it. He made all parts of us, not just our spiritual natures, and I think He would be honored by any honorable purpose we use His house for. I know churches that open their doors for a place for homeless people to eat and sleep.

    9. Did Jesus drive the money changers out because of noise? secular activity? ??? I think not. He drove them out because they were taking advantage of their position to enrich themselves at the expense of the worshipers. That may have had unnecessary side effects of noise, etc. But the basic idea was that what they were doing was fundamentally unholy, as in evil.

    • Appreciate your comments, Wilton. I hope that we rethink our goals. I can think of a number of alternatives that have enriched communities and congregations. All too often I see congregations dying from lack of vision.

    • And Jesus' statement at the end of chasing out the money changers was 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all evil.' In all these contributions on the topic of church building I haven't seen one response that says 'What would please God?' and 'Let's pray about it.' Did the early Christians meet in homes because they were a new movement and didn't have the financial resources to purchase lots and build church buildings?

      • In my original post and some of my follow up comments I have given examples of how some churches and responded to these questions. I have no doubt that they did ask those questions that you have asked. Their responses came as a result of much prayer and thought. Maybe their solution does not suit your situation. But ultimately we have to decide whether a building that is used for less than one day a week is what God really wants. Maybe we need to ask another related question: Is a church that only meets for Sabbath School and Church - a total of about 3 hours what God really wants a church to be?

        If we start from the premise that the church is the people, then maybe we will get a better understanding of the building that is needed for the people.


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