Tag Archives: Justin Bieber

Do churches need buildings? Do we?

Picture: Not really looking for the building above, but it would not be surprising to find it.

At our Council meeting not too long ago, a person offered a question, “Why do we have buildings anyway?” No one followed up on the question. (Maybe they didn’t even hear it). But I keep thinking about it, since I have raised quite a bit of money for buildings in my day and such a question makes me wonder.

Right now we are considering new buildings. I think questioning whether we should have any makes sense. There are doubts worth voicing:

  • It’s not like our present buildings are full, not really. (More buildings would mean we want even more space).
  • Buildings are expensive and we don’t have that much money. (More buildings means we think we will come up with more money).
  • Buildings are a commitment we have to maintain. (More buildings means we are committed and will maintain them).
  • Isn’t every Christian in the U.S. sick of leaders who are always raising money for a building? (More buildings means more risk of turning uncommitted people into even less committed people).

I think the questions are relevant. There are a lot of pharoahs out there building pyramids with the sweat of peasants. Justin Bieber is building a church. Three hours away the largest United Methodist Church is planning a spectacular new building. There is plenty of room for skepticism. Awe-inspiring buildings are rather low-level appeals to faith, don’t you think?

All that being said, more buildings could imply that we have a church that is “open for business” – the business of including more people in our life and work. We need room to grow; we need workshops. The fact that we have a building to use communicates that we share enough money to do big things – our people understand what it takes to get things done and they pay for it. Sharing a space communicates that our people have a common life and purpose that motivates them to stick with it – buying a building or making a long-term lease means you are doing something that is going to take a while.

We don’t have yesterday’s building strategy

We obviously have a new strategy that is not like yesteryear (or even like Kansas). We are not trying to build the most imposing building on the village square. The religion of capitalism, symbolized by Comcast, overtook that spot in the Philly region years ago. We’re not trying to outdo the false gods at their own game. On the contrary, we obtain utilitarian buildings that are just enough to do what we want to do as a whole congregation. A good half of what we do happens in our homes or in some other public places.

Some people say that we should skip the expensive together-space altogether and just do things out of our homes. That strategy has worked great for the Chinese church. (But see what is happening in Fuzhou, across the strait from Taiwan). Ex-evangelicals are writing their latest books about “house churches” that don’t have big meeting places. We listen to these thinkers and often look like their teaching, but we still think most Americans (unfortunately) think Christians “GO to church,” not ARE the church.

  • We need a public space to meet the public.
  • What’s more, we want to be a village, so we have a village space.
  • Plus, we DO things, like art, music, plays, advocacy meetings, classes, children’s work, counseling.

We need some space to do that 24/7, not just when the baby is sleeping or when we can pay someone else for the space they own.

Our buildings

Right now, Circle of Hope

  • owns two buildings for the church to use (Frankford Ave and Marlton Pike)
  • leases one 24/7 long-term (South Broad)
  • leases time at a building (North Broad)
  • owns two buildings for Circle Thrift (Frankford Ave)
  • leases space year to year for Circle Thrift (South Broad).
  • Gwen and I own two buildings for Circle Counseling, and counselors use a space at Marlton Pike.

Today, our new temporary team for solving some space needs will be out again looking for space to buy or lease somewhere in the Northwest (possibly with a thrift store attached) for our new congregation. Our new Good Business ideas also need space and bring a new possibility for combinations with church planting. We have big ideas for committed people who want to make a big impact.

I think you can be assured that nothing is going to happen too fast, though, since the biggest factor in the process of buying or leasing a building is whether our people really want to do it. Maybe your questions are so big they shut your bank account right up!

In the past, the people of Circle of Hope have said YES with their voices and with their sharing. But, right now, we may have said YES with our commitment to our map but NO with the amount we are sharing. We are not succeeding in meeting our modest goals for our Common Fund. We thought we could engage enough new givers this year to raise our income 10%. We have regular attenders, even covenant members, who do not give ANYTHING in a year, so that seemed like a logical place to raise the income and fuel our ambitions. So far non-givers have not awakened and new givers or regulars who have increased their sharing have not increased our income.

As one of the people who drives the bus, I have my foot hovering over the brake pedal. We don’t need buildings for unconvinced or  uncommitted people to supposedly use, for sure! We can wait for people to get on the bus (or to discover there is a bus and it is about to leave the station!). Maybe people don’t know where we are going right now. Or maybe they don’t know that we are waiting for them to be an important rider! I doubt that I would talk to anyone personally, especially covenant members, who don’t support the unique community and mission called Circle of Hope! This post is designed to help everyone get on board when it comes to our prospective buildings, or at least say STOP!

Are we visible enough?

Mike Brown vigil

We are embodying something beautiful. It is sensible – one can sense us.

But are we “visible” enough? Are we a “contrast society” like we aspire to be? Perhaps the most visible we were last year was during our Mike Brown vigil outside the future police headquarters.  It made some of us feel like, “Finally! We made ourselves known in some way.” Others are still talking about the relational damage they experienced when we appeared to be anti-police and declared some extreme versions of a political stance.  Some of us are eager to be visible. Others seem opposed to it or experience being visible as being exposed, even shameful.

Visible as radicals

These are thoughts we considered when we did some theology last week around the question, “What is radical?” We had John Wesley for our example of someone who fits the criteria for being such a person. Part of what made him so radical was his willingness to be visible, and often in striking contrast to both church and society. For instance, Curtis Book quoted him saying, “Money never stays with me. It would burn me if it did. I throw it out of my hands as soon as possible, lest it should find its way to my heart.” That certainly contrasts with common sense in the U.S.!

Wesley’s sincere convictions made him notorious. But there is a much more common form of being visible that we want to avoid. A contrast society is not visible in the way the world vies to be more notorious than someone else.  Take Justin Bieber and Adele for example. They  have been competing for #1 on the charts with songs about being forgiven, of all things! We are all for forgiveness to get on someone’s screen, right? But we hardly want to make the forgiveness of Jesus visible like a pop artist gets famous, do we? There are certain kinds of visible we just don’t want to practice: publicity-seeking, or political theatrics, or “show,” in general

Matt 6:3-4: “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

We think seeking notoriety or fame is a temptation, not an aspiration. A contrast society built by Jesus needs to rely on its radicality becoming visible, not rely on visibility to make it seem radical.

The little way

We agreed that the “little way” is better. It is the way of not trying to be visible. If you are trying to be visible, you probably have nothing from Jesus to show. The kind of contrast that makes us visible is: our palpable authenticity — you know it, you see it, there are no deceptive frills, it is frank. Our radicality says, “Do you want to? I do!” It is sincere. We need to let that smallness become visible, something like the widow’s worship became visible to one with eyes to see it.

Mark 12 :41-44:  “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.  Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.’”

We build the visible people of God. That's our lead.When we tried to figure out what, if any, balance there was in all of this, we decided that being visible is a matter of what we lead with. We could lead with techniques that make us visible. Or we could rely on the revelation to push us to make it known. Our lead is very rooted, practical and, by nature, visible. We build the people of God – that’s the lead. Other things might follow or coincide, but being “the together,” the anti-polarization – that’s contrast. This thought matches 1 Peter 4 10-11 in that it shows how the outward (people who yearn to be visible) and the inward (people who fear the attention is contaminating) connect:

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks [an outwardly visible act], they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves [a small way to be called], they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

Some people will be, by nature and gifting, more “visible” (like Gandalf) and others will be, by nature and gifting, “smaller” (like Frodo).  We are all both, in that we share in one body and seek one end.

Visible and small together

Leading by building the church is always going to be radical, and so prone to temptation and danger. When it comes to building the church with new disciples, the “visible” people may be prone to wanting instant results in response to a speech, or an ad, or an action. The “small” people are more likely to be content with the more common reality that conversion is, more times than not, about “Chinese water torture” evangelism – drip by drip. We do not change quickly. We may have to drag many people along the way until they can walk. When it comes to keeping the church built, the “visible” people may want to show the sword and induce a miracle to solve problems. Sometimes they should. The  “smaller” might try to diminish our polarized environment, in which every problem becomes a me-centered social justice issue. Sometimes conflict should be avoided, too.

We did not come to every conclusion needed. But we were glad for our ability to do some theology. We are embodying something beautiful. It is sensible – one can sense us. So we were glad that we could conclude where Wesley did, even when he was content to work among the smallest and yet became so notorious. He was fond of quoting Paul in the middle of temptation and danger: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).