Organic Church

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What would a "church" look like, if it did not own a building?

This is a question that has intrigued me for some time. If the church is people, then why do we assume that a church should own its own building?

I imagine there are any number of facilities that are available for use in our community on Sunday morning for worship, prayer, and study. What might it look like for us to engage some of these community organizations (businesses, non-profits, schools, etc.) in partnership? What if we could offer them something (other than money) in return for use of their facilities on a Sunday?

How could the church bless its community through kingdom partnerships?

In addition, what would our "budgets" look like if we did not own a building? How much more could be invested in the community and in developing leadership for the community? What would it look like if we were to seek "first" God's kingdom in our local community and His righteousness and let all the other things be added?

Obviously, I have a lot of questions. have been thinking through these matters for some time, but I would love to engage others in this conversation.

If you are currently a "church" without a building, what does that look like for you? Is it intentional, or is it just temporary until you can afford your own space?

If you are serving a church which owns a building, what advantage do you see to owning your own space, and why might my idea be impractical?

I would love to hear your comments. Thank you for your partnership in the gospel, and helping me think through what church renewal looks like.

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  • Community Engagement
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I have always been drawn to the "house church" of the NT.  The idea you present, a church without a building, is attractive and resembles that idea.

However, there are practical concerns that make it less attractive.  My brother belonged to such a church.  Over some years they met in various places, until they finally bought a place of their own.  Why?  Well, he was in charge of sound setup.  He and the other sound people, and the computer people, came to where "church" was meeting 1-1/2 hours before worship to set up and then test everything.  Every Sunday.  After worship they tore everything down and carted the equipment to store in a trailer.  Stuff broke.  Too much wear and tear.   After time, the people on the setup team "burnt out" and quit.

This is one anecdote of personal experience.  I guess if one has a large enough church to rotate people, burnout might not be a problem.  But a church that large has it's own problems.  Another possibility is to have simple worship without these additions.  But most churches (and guests?) seem to want technology. 

Is this a case of a great idea that doesn't work well in practice?

Rev. Larry Lobdell Jr

Community Builder

Thank you for your comments, Larry and for sharing the anecdotal story.   

However, my question goes a little deeper than simply the logistics of hosting a weekly worship gathering.  I asked if there are those who have "intentionally" chosen not to have a building.  The intention is to focus ministry energy in the community in a more expeditionary manner.   The intention is to purposely find a kingdom partner in the community with whom the church can serve in exchange for meeting space when it is needed.   The service would be to incorporate the people from the community organization into the worship gathering.   For example, here in ABQ we have a number of special needs folks who worship with us each week.  I wonder if we chose to focus our ministry and even worship gatherings to serve that population's needs; meeting in their space.   Then also using their facility for space to develop disciples within the serving congregation as well as the population served.

The intention is to be wholly "organic"; a living body integrated fully into our community.   

I am not sure this model of ministry will work everywhere, and I am not even certain this is the model that everyone should follow.   I only wonder what it might look like for those who have been called to intentionally partner in this manner with their local community?  

Thanks again, and I invite any further comments you may have.

p.s. I am almost certain that this model will require the "pastor" to find bivocational employment. 

I like the idea of "House Church".  As a missionary with CRWM for 20 years in Mexico, this is where we often began: Sometimes in the back yard under a tree for shade: but there were certain disadvantages:  If you hold it consistently at the same place, what do you do when they need to leave for whatever reason for a few weeks or a month: sure, you tell everyone that normally attends where the next service will be: but not everyone has the space for a growing house church: sure, develop leaders and  hold multiple services in more homes as needed: that's the goal: eventually home groups will either want to join a larger group of worshippers where there are more options available for children's ministries, or for youth ministries or for the worship experience with larger groups, good music, liturgical experiences like baptisms and Christmas programs etc.  Home worship and small group experience is a great way to get started or to reach the unbelieving neighbor.  But sooner or later the group itself will be asking, "where can we meet where there is more space to accommodate our growing need for "Sunday School rooms", for a vacation Bible School program, for ceremonies like weddings, baptisms, and funerals?"  The host may eventually realize that their home is no longer their home: it becomes everyone else's space: people will assume that the bedroom can be used for a class, or that refreshments for the kids can be taken from the fridge: and you have no control over perceptions of how well a host welcomes or resents the intrusion of everyone taking over their space.  We have had people say to us, "we want to attend your worship service but we won't go into that home: her husband or her unbelieving family that lives with the host have said inappropriate things or behaved rudely towards me or my children."  Some just don't like the idea of continually entering in someone else's private space as if it was a public space: because there is always the possibility "that my turn will come soon and I don't know if I want people in my home." Some are too embarrassed to let everyone see how they live. 

When you have to "rent" for the moment, or share the worship space with another congregation in order to make more use of the same facilities, there is always tension over use or abuse of materials shared, space shared, sound equipment or musical instruments shared, etc.  or if you have to move in, set up, take down and clean up after every event, yes things break down or wear out quicker, including the people you count on to help do the work.  I've been there too. 

So there are benefits to pooling resources and owning property for the purpose of public worship and providing the options large congregations can provide when it comes to ministry.  I didn't even point out the limitations for handicapped or those in wheel chairs and those who need walkers in order to be mobile:  House churches are less likely to be "handicapped accessible" unless they have someone with those needs living there. What a blessing to have a church facility that is accessible to be able to host "friendship" or other events that are a delight for all to attend: for events like baptisms, funerals, weddings, Christmas and Easter programs, etc.

Pastor Ken Vanderploeg

Community Builder

Thank you Ken.  You definitely offer a lot of "food" for thought.  My assumption would be not to meet in people's homes, but in a facility owned by someone in the community with whom we can build a ministry partnership.  

My biggest concern is that the building can be seen as a "safe" place for the congregation, but viewed as a "members only" club by folks in the community.  If we are to be seen as missional, and connected to the community, I think we offer some level of vulnerability by being willing to meet in another's "space".  

In my humble opinion, "church" is not primarily about a worship gathering or a Bible study, but rather the people serving the community, being Christ's hands, feet, ears, heart, and at times His voice.   In order for that to happen we need to be intentional about engaging our community.

Joe, Thanks for inviting conversation around this topic.  We are currently in a new church development process here in Detroit which is asking those questions and experimenting with answers.  We are building relationships among three different "house church" communities across the city.  Once a month, we borrow space in a building from another church in order to gather with the combined groups.  We don't have intentions on worshipping as a large group every week, because each neighborhood/house church already has their own rhythms of meeting weekly in their own community.  We do not desire to own a building of our own for both financial and mission-minded reasons.

The benefits of not having a building are multiple: not having the costs associated with it, not having people get in the mindset that the building is central to the ministry, interacting with our church and community in spaces that are not owned by us, having to be creative rather than getting into routines based on a consistent meeting space, we don't fall into a consumeristic mentality of providing goods and services to the church.

 The challenges are: The need for good communication is critical because of a lack of a consistent meeting space for people to depend upon.  It can also be challenging to be nomadic in setting up for a gathering (even once a month).  People with needs also seek us out in our homes rather than a building, which can be a challenge to have need coming to our doorstep rather than an "organization" like a church building provides.

If we were to settle on a consistent space for our monthly gathering (or if we decided a more frequent pattern of gathering with the larger group was better) we would try to find a space to utilize that was already a neighborhood asset in order to partner with other community-serving agencies.

Those are some initial thoughts to keep the conversation going.

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