We need to rethink church. It isn’t about a building or a particular minister. The more money a congregation spends on a building, the less it is spending on people who need it.
But people need a place. They can meet in a park if it is a pretty day, but the weather is so unpredictable. They can meet in a gym in a school if it is agreeable to that, or in a community center. Sometimes the trick is finding a location that isn’t being used for its original purpose during the time that the group needs it. It is sort of like a time-share arrangement.
I like the idea of the building being a community center, because it is supported by all members of the community. But then there will be arguments about the separation of church and state, and people who are atheist might get angry that their tax dollars are being used for something they are opposed to. So that might not work out.
Some people like a solid place. They don’t want to wonder from week to week where they are meeting, and find out too late that it has been moved to the school up the road. Some people identify with a building, and want the constancy of it. So in that case, what do you do?
Instead of a congregation building a church that is only used on Sundays and maybe Wednesdays, why not create a space that is open to all faiths? The Muslims can use it on Fridays, the Jews on Saturdays, and the Christians on Sundays. During the week, there can be gatherings for all three groups (and any others) so they can meet and mingle. The same meeting area will be used by all, just at different times. There are certain accessories that each group uses – have a separate storage room for those, and the different groups can pull them out for use.
Each group contributes to the cost of the building and its upkeep. Thus, they are only spending a third of their normal expenses. Thus, they have more money left for helping people who need help. It is important the people they help not just be members of the congregation. We are called to help everybody, not just those in our “family”.
It is important that congregations remember that they are called together to be stronger together. More people working towards a common goal makes it more likely that it will happen. Their goal is to serve God – not to serve the idea that is “church.”
Now, there is no worry about the congregations getting too big and needing a bigger building. The congregation isn’t the group of people. It is the people who share the same idea.
Build another building, with the same concept, in a nearby community. Have it be the same size. People who live near there can meet there. Think of this kind of like branches of a library, or a franchise of a food establishment.
It has nothing to do with ministers, or people all being in the same place to listen to the same person. This is critical that it is not personality-driven. In fact, the less hierarchy, the better. The moment a church starts identifying itself with its pastor, it stops being a church and starts being a fanclub. Having different speakers throughout the year is good, or having the meetings be unprogrammed is good.
Now, it is perfectly OK to have a video camera and screens in the meeting halls, and occasionally the different halls can be “connected” by technology, rather than physical proximity. Think of it as a teleconference. This needs to not be the norm, however.
Have gatherings during the week for the different congregations in the different buildings to meet together. Make sure that the meetings are more about service, and not socialization. People can meet and network while they are serving.
People join religious organizations because they want to serve God, not because they want to go to potluck dinners. The purpose of a religious organization should be to enable people to serve God.