Thursday, July 06, 2006

How Expensive is Your Church?

I wonder how you will answer if someone asks you, “How expensive is your church?” Your first impression may be, “My church is free. No annual fees, no service charges and no membership dues. It is not expensive.” Then if that particular person persists, “What about your church’s expansion plans? New building projects. What will it cost you, as a member? How expensive will it be to remain in your church?”

Many churches, especially bigger churches in the Klang valley are embarking on multimillion ringgit building and expansion plans. I am sure there are excellent reasons for these building and expansion plans. Growing church attendance, increasing ministry programs and a bigger staff are some of these reasons. I am also sure all churches which are embarking on these multimillion ringgit building projects have excellent Christ-centered, church community discerned reasons which are in God’s will for these churches. However, I hope that churches are not planning on spending these amount of money (estimates of $50 million, $ 30 million, $10 million to name a few numbers) for the following reasons:

“We want a church campus that looks like Rick Warren’s church campus in California”
It of course great to have a church campus like Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest. The whole complex is bigger than some of our local university campus. The main auditorium can sit 5,000 people and have the latest in audio-visual equipment. We must realize that we are not in California but in Malaysia. We have to be realistic and contextualize our church buildings. Sometimes we look at the mega churches in other countries and we want to be like them. There is nothing wrong with mega churches provided it is God who wants us to have them. There is something wrong when we try to imitate by ending up with only the superficial simulacrum of the whole concept. A multimillion ringgit building may become a proverbial white elephant and become a millstone around our necks. Instead of trying to build physical assets, we should concentrate and invest in building spiritual assets in our members.

“We must show the surrounding community an impressive church building so that they will know our God is a powerful God”
Aesthetic buildings are good to look at but we should aim for functionality and multi-purpose. Then the building project will not cost so much. If the intention of building is for show, then we need to rethink our priorities. If we think God will be glorified by man -made structures, then we need to relook at Old and New Testament history. Also, we must be aware of the sensitivity of building impressive, attention-drawing buildings in a country where the ‘priority’ religion is not Christianity.

“Our church building must be more impressive than that other church’s building because we are better than them”
Keeping up with the Jones also occurs in religious communities. We need to be aware of this and not get caught up in this vicious circle. Often it is a subtle and unconscious need on our part to compare ourselves with others. It falls to the church leadership and communal discernment of the church to make sure that the tremendous investment in money, effort and work is for the expansion of God’s kingdom, not in proving themselves better than other Christians. Good Christian stewardship demands that every ringgit that we spend must be accountable and for the mission of the church which is evangelism. How many missionaries and ‘full time’ workers are suffering from lack of finances while home churches are building ‘fine’ buildings? The work of the gospel expands, not by buildings but by personal relationships and effective stewardship of financial resources.

“We must have a new church building/expansion because there is not enough space”
On the surface this sounds like a good reason. However, ‘not enough space’ is a perpetual problem. I have never been to a church where they have ‘enough space’. When I was visiting Rick Warren’s church, the people I spoke to also complain of ‘not enough space’. The solution to ‘not enough space’ may not be building new buildings but in more creative use of existing space. We need to have a paradigm change in our thinking of a church as being a building where everything is in one place. Could a church not be a small shop lot for administration office, rent hall spaces for worship and services and hold other meetings in homes? Instead of building a new building every time the congregation grows, should we not think of leasing or renting of bigger and bigger convention halls or hotel ballrooms for worship service? Most convention halls/ hotels come with audiovisual equipment and adequate parking facilities.

I have nothing against churches that have visions for multimillion dollars building projects. I just hope that they are aware that the fund-raising, the work needed and the taxing of their members may drain their resources and divert their attention from the more important task of building the Kingdom of God.


inokku said...

a random comment..

why are all the churches moving
to section 13...!!! ><

its getting a bit too crowded in
one area.. it'll sow competition etc

note: this is merely a random comment
not to be taken personally etc la ^^

The Hedonese said...

John Frame once wrote:

"Sometimes, then, we would do well to learn from the marketers, sometimes not. When marketers tell us that it is unwise to fill an auditorium beyond 80% of its capacity, we do well to listen, though we must never put such advice on a par with God's Word. Scripture never says that we must fill our buildings to the point of standing room before going to two Sunday morning services or two assemblies or a larger facility.

So there is nothing wrong in taking the marketers' advice in the absence of more important considerations. But if marketers tell us we must avoid the subject of sin in order to keep the seekers comfortable, we must at that point disagree in the sharpest terms, for biblical principle is then at stake."