Yesterday I preached at my old church. It was a little over 25 years ago that a very young group of about 15 folks gathered in a home to decide to start a new church. That church has a great facility and over 500 people now. I was with it for 16 years as a worship leader and assistant pastor. It was so much fun getting that church up and running, some of the best years of my life. It was fun, for one reason because I only had to do one service while we have 3 on the weekends, and it was nice to see some old friends.
I don’t get the opportunity to see what’s going on out there in “churchland” much. I read about it. George Barna thinks it all sucks; Spencer Burke thinks we’re missing the mark by going big and with buildings, others say go bigger, and all the while we pastors who are just trying to love God and serve His people can get more confused and frustrated by the minute, or book, or article. Mega churches have now shifted to doing wonderful outreach to countries, which I think is great and to be commended. Many of us have been doing it for years, just on a very small scale. The bigger the church, the more press you get.
Church culture and the science of church can be confusing. I’ve struggled with the whole issue of buildings. I know they cost lots of money, but something hit me recently. When Katrina hit New Orleans whose buildings were being used to house the homeless? Maybe there were some house churches taking in people; maybe Spencer was there helping in small, incremental ways. But this I do know – the bigger churches, the ones with buildings were used to house people, feed people, and are still doing that along with tent cities on their property. Where would that help have come from if they had all been little house groups? Sure they could come together, but would they have? What property would have been made available for taking in the hundreds, even thousands?
Reading Spencer’s column recently in Leadership Journal, and reflecting on the team and money we have sent to help in New Orleans, and are getting ready to do again, I’m getting convinced that to be small with no walls maybe cool, but it limits the amount of help you can offer when tragedy strikes.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the ooze.com, and all that Spencer and the rest are doing to help us refocus on what is of value. I want to escape “church inc.”, as one author put it, as much as they do. But I want to be ready to be a community resource when needed. Living in a hurricane zone, and having lived through more than I can count in my life affects me I’m sure.
The thoughts of spending a few million dollars to get us into a new building is challenging in many ways. It’s a challenge strategically. But for me above the idea of the money is the reason. What can we at the Vineyard, living in a very high probability zone for such a disaster do to prepare ourselves to reach out, invite in, feed, house, and love our community when, not if for us, it occurs? Is our community worth that investment? Or do I want to be cool?