“But what we really need is money to build the church. We want to be the best Christians we can be, and how can we do that without studying the Bible regularly? And what if it rains while we’re studying? You were here once when it rained — what did we do?”
“We all ran into the house,” I conceded, “and ate mangos while waiting for the rain to stop. About an hour later we continued our Bible study”.
[Tanzanians are very afraid of rain.]
“See, how can we be Christians with those kinds of interruptions and disturbances?! And don’t forget about evangelism. We just studied today about how we should be making disciples. We can’t make disciples without a building. We need a big building with a tin roof, so people will come.“
That’s how the conversation went. All two hours of it. And that’s how the conversation goes every time, more or less (though not usually for two hours). On this particular day it went longer because a representative from a church in America was visiting. And he smelled like money.
There are a couple of assumptions about church buildings in Tanzania:
- We’re not a church until we have a building.
- A church building is our number one tool for evangelism. [And to most, musical instruments are number two.]
And these are just a few of the many questions to be asked on the subject:
- Are church buildings themselves good or bad?
- How much should cultural expectations play into decisions about buildings?
- Why do these expectations exist?
- From where should the money with which to build come?
- If the money doesn’t come from or through missionaries, how do we maintain good relationships with Christians in a culture in which money is (one of) the key(s) to relationship?
- If the money doesn’t come from or through missionaries, do I really have to have this conversation every single time I visit a church?
- What’s so bad about eating mangos during a weather-imposed intermission? Churches in the states have donuts and coffee….
- If this church never completes their building, does that mean I’ll never have to listen to those awful keyboard tracks over huge speaker systems?
I don’t have all the answers. Though I have my leanings. In brief (and not corresponding number to number above), here are some of my own thoughts:
- Church buildings carry no intrinsic goodness. Nor are they bad in and of themselves.
- It ought to be the decision of each congregation whether or not they build.
- It ought to be the money of each congregation with which they build, should they decide to. If others contribute to these funds, that’s great.
- BUT it should be very clear to all involved that a building is no more necessary for a church to exist than is a family life center, a sign with our meeting times posted, a KJV-only requirement, donuts and coffee, or Trunk-or-Treat with jumpy bouncy toys for kids.
- Church buildings may be good at getting people to come and be a part of your group, especially if they are already Christians or have interest in becoming Christians.
- Church buildings are bad for church planting. They make reproduction and multiplication difficult and (extremely) slow — not to mention expensive.
- Church buildings seem to be a product of numbers. Their presence and size is almost always directly related to the number of members. Therefore discussions of church size should probably come before discussions of buildings.
- I do not contribute any money to a building above what I contribute to the church in general. [This is not due only to beliefs concerning sustainability, reproducibility, and the like, but also to beliefs concerning the number of churches asking and the number of dollars in my bank account.]
- I ask my visitors not to contribute any money to a building above what they contribute to the church in general. [This is due mostly to beliefs concerning sustainability, precedence-setting, etc.]
- I prefer coffee to mangos, but mangos to donuts.
There’s a great discussion and series going on over at The Gospel Coalition concerning church buildings. It is quite western in nature, but still very related to the subject at hand.
- Should Churches Spend Money on Nice Buildings?
- Buildings Matter Because Bodies Matter
- Reforming Church Architecture
- We Want to Stay Light and Mobile, Flexible and Ready
What do you think about all this church building stuff?