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Church space does matter

By Tim Spivey

Many of us wish it weren’t so, but space does matter. The kind of space we create in our church buildings for worship, fellowship and ministry – as well as the space ministers work in – it all matters. It doesn’t make or break a church. Yes, the Gospel can be preached anywhere. Yes, ministers should be willing to serve the Lord while sitting on hot coals and having their eyes pecked out by the birds of the valley.

If they must.

In most churches, though, it isn’t a matter of “must.” It’s a matter of choice. I’ll go out on a limb and say in some churches where space is dark and run down, it’s usually a matter of what church leaders feel the value of facility space is – not theology. How do I know that? Because I’ve seen the homes of many of the same church leaders, and they aren’t usually run down. So maybe it is theological – just not in the way we think (see the book of Haggai).

Facilities facilitate. Nothing more. They themselves are not ministry. But, having “facilitators” that actually facilitate ministry requires attention. We have to see them as more than a necessary evil.

I understand fully (and respect) those who are not a big fan of spending much money on facilities. I just don’t share that opinion. The reason is that facilities not cared for can work against a church. They continue to cost money but bring no little benefit.

Whether we want to admit it or not, the environment in which ministry happens matters. We understand the importance of setting for most important things we do in life. For instance, men don’t typically propose to their would-be brides at Piggly Wiggly. We choose “romantic” places – by this we mean a romantic setting. If we need to focus on our work, we try to find a low distraction environment.

Here’s the point: Deep down we all know that environments matter. It’s no different for worship and ministry. If we choose to neglect the environment in which ministry sometimes occurs (hopefully it’s not always or even mostly facility-based), we are rejecting a concept we embrace in other aspects of life.

The pews don’t need to be made of solid gold. They should at least be free of upchuck stains and chewing gum.

The offices don’t have to have an ocean view. They should, at least, not evoke claustrophobia, smell terrible, or punish the staff. I once consulted with a church frustrated with their youth minister’s productivity and unwillingness to show up to the office. When I went to his office to speak to him, I found he was in a room the size of a broom closet – along with the church water heater. No windows. No printer. Terrible smell. Oh, the mystery.

Children’s ministry classrooms don’t have to be full of bouncy-houses, etc. They should at least be sanitary and a place kids like to go to. For that matter, that wing should be a place kids’ teachers like. They are human beings and don’t like being in a dark, smelly environment any more than a kid. Sometimes improving the environment can lessen the perennial dilemma of finding enough children’s ministry volunteers. Church dungeons are no place to lock the children and their teachers. Parents don’t want to leave their kids in that environment either. Think clean and bright. Now, we can teach.

Here are some other questions you can ask:

Does your staff like coming into the office?
Does anyone from the community ask to use your facility for weddings, funerals or quinceaneras?

When was the last time you recarpeted or repainted any part of the inside of your facility?

Facilities that don’t actually facilitate are financial albatrosses that hurt ministry. Facilities geared to actually facilitate vibrant ministry can be an enormous blessing. It doesn’t always take much. Moving a wall here, a roll of carpet there, some paint here, some creativity there.

Lastly, consult whoever will be using the room about whatever changes you’re going to make. If the room is for a ladies’ Bible class, don’t let the 23-year-old youth minister decorate the room, and vice-versa.

If you have facilities, use them to facilitate ministry. Having space designed to facilitate worship or shape the hearts of the young is a great asset and makes all the sense in the world. It’s also thoroughly biblical. Paying for a facility that does none of that is foolishness.

Dr. Tim Spivey is lead planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, CA. Tim is also an adjunct professor of religion at Pepperdine University and purveyor of New Vintage Leadership, a blog offering cutting-edge insights on leadership and theology. He is the author of numerous articles and the book Jesus, the Powerful Servant.

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