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What Churches Should Avoid When Considering Construction

Some churches obviously put great care and thought into their building. It clearly reflects portions of their theology and serves to further their ministry goals. Others? Not so much. So, with that in mind, what are some of the most common mistakes pastors make in church design and the building of facilities? In other words, what things should churches avoid when considering church construction? It seems to me that leaders can go in two different wrong directions with their church building in a society like ours—they can think too trendy or they can think too permanent.

Thinking Trendy

Most of us have probably driven by a church with green windows and roof that looked like it was from The Brady Bunch. These churches built trendy in the 1970s and now they’re regretting that. A photo slideshow of “The Ugliest Churches in the World” finds most of them went for a modern look that’s not so modern anymore.

But, even more than the aesthetic appeal of a church building, many churches are going to wish they had not built gigantic multi-thousand seat auditoriums and many others will regret the quaint columns and brick building on the edge of town.

Think about a church like Life Church. They are one of the largest churches in the nation, and yet their buildings do not generally seat thousands. There is a definite “technologification” of gathering and the facilities are utilitarian. Now, there can be some unintended side effects to this, but it has undoubtedly opened up new possibilities for churches today.

However, churches who merely try to stay trendy are in a never-ending pursuit. Styles change, they always have. Those churches whose thinking is driven by current popularity will have buildings that no longer suit their needs and will fade out of style.

There are some long-term theological consequences from failing to think biblically when it comes to a church facility. When we glorify trendiness, we unite the message of Christ with faddish architecture, giving the impression that the unchanging gospel will one day become irrelevant. When we view our building as our legacy, we tie the church to a building which will eventually crumble and collapse.

Thinking Permanent

Some of the biggest churches 20 years ago are now empty shells—either closed or relocated.

The problem is that most churches thought their building was a permanent representation of their congregation. We may need a better way. Even those who want to build impressive liturgical structures may need to consider if this makes sense, particularly if we do not live in a French village that will be the same in 500 years.

Perhaps churches should consider what business people call the “mall cycle.” A new mall—or lifestyle centers, as they call them now—gets built in an area full of people. In 15 to 20 years, the people have moved farther out, so a new mall is built in that area, leaving the old mall vacant.

Businesses recognize this (at least the smart ones do) and build accordingly. They understand that their building is temporary and will be replaced one day. The business wants to be where the people are, not necessarily where they have been for decades. They know the mall cycle is a reality for them. They know those buildings won’t last forever.

That’s not how a lot of pastors and leaders build churches. They build church facilities as if they’ll be there for hundreds of years. They sink the majority of their budget into an enormous building that removes all flexibility from the church.

After population has shifted from their area, the church is left unable to go where the people are. Instead, many feel trapped in a ministry model because they are trying to draw in people who do not live near their building.

When we view our building as our legacy—as the thing that will last—we tie the church, which Jesus founded and against which the gates of hell will not prevail, to a building, which will crumble and collapse in a matter of time.

Now, we mentioned several kinds of churches in the article– big and small– and some might say we are being critical of the big church or the more traditional/liturgical church. In both cases, that misses the point. These observations partly come from the pastors of those churches who wished they had built differently (and probably will next time). And, for that matter, trends show that there will be more, not less, mega churches in years to come. Perhaps many will reconsider their building strategy (as will churches of all sizes).

Summing up, when church leaders allow a misplaced desire for trendiness or a mistaken view of permanence to drive their conversations and decisions, they are likely making a mistake that will hinder their work well into the future.