Look out, not in!

See the potential? (Image courtesy Wikipedia)


I believe my recent muse on the role and potential of the town community hall has applications for the church.     

Increasingly I think there is a swing away from seeing church as a place for the once or twice a week gathering of the saints – the home and cell church movement has gathered momentum over the past three decades and parishioners are increasingly putting a greater emphasis on their smaller community of believers, rather than ‘church program’.    

This may be at odds with the ‘mega-churches’ that have sprung up all over the place (and the benefits or otherwise of that development can wait for another day).  But I’d suggest that even in the mega-church setting the totality of the successful church will resemble a honeycomb of cells where a good portion of rusted-on congregants are committed to their tight cell group community of friends more than anything else on offer.    

I recently came across a great article about Christianity in a post-Google age, and one of the main points noted in the article was the declining social influence in the church over the last couple of centuries years.  It had this to say about the declining influence of church in modern society:    

Consider this comparison. On the eastern seaboard in the 17th and 18th centuries, and in the expansion of a young nation westward toward the Pacific Ocean, churches played very specific social functions. Not only were they the center of religious life, the place where one came to be baptized, married, and buried (“hatched, matched, and dispatched”)… and everything in between. They were also the heart and soul of the community — the center of social, communal, political, and even economic life. There was simply no other game in town.
But things have changed. It’s obvious that churches no longer play most of these social functions. We are now a massively pluralistic society living in an increasingly globalized world. Every major world religion is represented among United States citizens.     
But if we look to the potential of the community hall, I also wonder if a similar potential doesn’t continue to rest within the local church.  It’s a modern reality that many churches are perched on high-profile, valuable real estate.  As an economist I sometimes can’t help but do a fairly crass cost/benefit, return on investment analysis on what these properties return to the Kingdom.    

It’s a scary analysis if put against some of the pointed Jesus parables about the King who demands a return from his servants with what they’re entrusted with.  Traditionally these parables are interpreted within the confines of what an individual has done with their spiritual gifting.  But what if it has a wider application – and is applied to the material assets entrusted to Christendom?  Is it good stewardship to allow a building worth millions of dollars to be used for only a few hours each week for a gathering of the already convinced?    

Alternate ways to do mission

Not much different from the Baptistery, is it?


Being of a Baptist persuasion I’m only half-joking in suggesting that there’s a potential missed opportunity that takes centre stage in most Baptist buildings – the Baptistery.  As a left-of-centre suggestion, what’s to prevent the Baptistery from having a little renovation to make it into a hydro-therapy spa that would bless the aged in the local community on a daily basis?   

I know when I was a kid at Bulawayo Baptist Church entry into the Baptistery was strictly forbidden (not that it stopped me trying) because it was sacred.  I wonder what God would consider sacred in light of the return on investment principles of Luke 19:12-27?   Jesus was baptized in a river after all.    

Around here there are some great examples of churches that have thought well-outside the square and purpose-built their premises around their potential use from Monday to Friday rather than the weekend Service.  The best example would have to be Goodlife Church which is the social hub of the Buderim township, incorporating an excellent Café, gymnasium, office spaces, swimming pool and children’s play areas.    

But even for congregations not able to custom build off a clean slate, surely there is scope to take a good look at the premises and dream dreams about how it could become a buzzing social hub – particularly with the buckets of government funding that continually crop up for community facilities.       

In an age where vision is important for growth, what better vision could a church have than how it can practically serve its community?    


2 Responses to Look out, not in!

  1. Siddharth Ranjan says:

    Hi Andrew,
    its illuminating.
    could not stop thinking about the leitmotif of this article: continued relevance keeps a community grow.

    The economist in you has really done an out of box thinking, when it produces such doable ideas as this one:

    what’s to prevent the Baptistery from having a little renovation to make it into a hydro-therapy spa that would bless the aged in the local community on a daily basis?

    Can i also make a living by writing?

  2. mzilikazi says:

    Writing’s just a hobby for me Ranjan. Unless this blog gets more noticed!

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