Latest News

Church growth blogs

Without a Building

One of the best things we ever did was something that was never intended or planned. We own no buildings. We rent a school for our Sunday services and we beg, borrow and hire everything else.

What started out as an accident (in the early days of the church there was an attempt to buy a church building) is now something that we embrace as a choice. Now I know most people reading this will be part of a church that owns one and there is a lot of literature about making the most of it. I want to make the contrarian case that buildings can be dangerous for the health of the church!

We used to have a small centre in a small shop off Wallington High St. We rented it and we saw it as ours; a public face to the church where we could put up signs in the windows and have people drop by. We even had a small prayer room at the back. It felt “our” space for mid-week use. A year ago we gave it up. Why? Well the short answer was the landlord doubled the rent (though we could have found another place) but that led us on an adventure that is still unfolding into the heart of our community.

When we had the building there was always the question of how well we were using the space and the pressure to use it even if it wasn’t the most appropriate place to use. I don’t think that this was just our problem. Talking to others there is a pressure to make the most of our buildings – for some this is a huge problem with ancient buildings and few resources. Other churches have spent millions on refurbishing their buildings. In addition it is human nature to fall back into our comfort zone by automatically ruling out places other than our own buildings. But even here I often wonder if that is the best use of resources or whether all the glorious ministries planned are best done there.

Let me take an example. Many churches do holiday clubs. We do. Many churches use their own facilities. But there are all too often issues with the size of halls available and the suitability of the place. There is another, I think often better, alternative at hand. There are thousands of schools all around the country that have unused space during holidays that are designed for children. We have regularly used schools in the area. This has some very interesting side-benefits.

Firstly, it builds relationships with the school; secondly, over time you can build up significant numbers coming to the holiday club from the school who have no connection with church (indeed one of our youth leaders came in this very way having been a sceptical atheist when she suspiciously let her children go!).

There are so many amazing places that most communities have that the church doesn’t necessarily consider. We set up a monthly youth event with a dozen of our youth a few years ago. We set it up in a local high quality council-run sports/community centre. It slowly started to grow in popularity to the stage that we now have 80-100 young people each month. We take over their sizeable sports hall and youth zone. Or take the local Library Café. We now use it for our Monday morning drop-in and often have 20-30 people coming as well as the Café staff pointing out people who they know could do with a chat or be included.

All over the community we are making friends and building strong partnerships with people due to our using community spaces. It has been amazing how many people are open to the church as we come with open hands. We call this process finding the “people of peace”. There is power in powerlessness. I am not a gatekeeper. I don’t have to say no to people who wish to rent the church premises. We live in a society inherently sceptical of power claims. This is a great way of showing that you have none – which paradoxically gives you more of a hearing.

The major change comes within the congregation itself. It says to them that they are the church and that they are responsible for reaching out to those around them. We recently did a prayer pilgrimage around our area by our small groups around places where we were ministering.

One of the feedbacks that we got was that it made them realise how much was going on to build God’s Kingdom in our community (indeed most groups didn’t have time to go round even the subset of places where we were doing things or where ministries were occurring). We have a huge ownership by members of the activities and ministries in the church. There is no committee to look at church fabric, no building fund, no millions raised for refurbishing the church. We raise money to pay for mission, renting places and for staff.

Maybe it would be worth looking at how you might give up your buildings for Lent and see what you have in your community.

< Back to Mission Network News