Scott’s post yesterday Is Small the New Big? made me think of a conversation I had with a full-time worker recently. He travels throughout North America and he shared some thoughts similar to Scott’s about the condition of and use of our assembly buildings. I asked if he would write down his thoughts which are shared below. Due to the sensitive nature of the thoughts, I thought it best to post these without mentioning the worker. His comments give us food for thought as we seek to win souls for the Lord.
This reminded me of another conversation I had recently with a parent of some children in our community who didn’t send his kids to our kids club. The dad’s comment was simple, “We don’t send our kids because your church building looks suspicious, old and we wouldn’t feel comfortable with our kids inside without any way of checking in on them.” A valid point and maybe one that is more prominent than we think.
Here are the thoughts from my friend…
A desire to grow
Every assembly I have been in or involved with wants/ desires / prays for people to get saved and for the assembly to grow. I personally do not know of any assembly that is content to be comprised only of older saints with no visible hope for the future of the work. My observation is that in all the assemblies I know of personally the Lord’s people are interested in the gospel going out and in living godly lives.
Many assemblies that have primarily older saints were once thriving works and these seniors have been part of the past work. There were large Sunday Schools, young people’s groups, gospel outreaches, ministry meetings, and the buildings were full. Now in a number of places there are declining numbers and advancing age, the buildings are under used and it is hard to get outsiders to come in for meetings of any kind.
For the first hundred years of the “assembly movement”, buildings were not of great importance. A number of works started in homes or rented halls and people were reached with the gospel. It was not uncommon at all for assemblies to start this way.
By the middle of the 1900’s, it started to get more difficult to get outsiders to come to a “home church” and chapels or halls were built that looked like “churches”. This process gave a “face” to the work and identity to the assembly in the community. We know the church is not the building, but for those outside it was an important point of reference.
It seems now, in 2014/15, that a number of assemblies in many of these “churches” built 40 to 80 years ago are ones that are struggling numerically and have few young families. The buildings tend to be in older neighbourhoods and have little visible exposure. The buildings lack visual appeal or, in some case,s repel those who have never been inside. For those outsiders that do come in there may be little that appeals on the inside and facilities, basements, stairs, and seating may leave a negative impression. In many towns/cities the majority of the unsaved would not even know where the building is located.
To generalize the situation, experientially it seems to me that the assemblies that have experienced numerical growth and have young families have a building that is conducive to outreach. Buildings that are visible in a town or community, those that have plenty of parking and easy access are, generally speaking, the ones with larger numbers and younger families.
There are exceptions to what is presented here but again I would say this is more the norm. We also know the Lord is not limited and the building is only a means to an end but the current situation is worth some thought.
These thoughts hit home to me. Have we become so blind that we fail to see the very obvious practical issues that face us and create barriers between us and those seeking the Lord. Are we so complacent that the thought of moving, renovating or even building new is just too much work?
Did the Lord care about logistics?
I often think about how the Lord did things. He could have performed any miracle he wanted, but he still took the time to deal with practical details. When he fed the 5000 (and more) he asked them to sit down in smaller groups. He did this because logistically it was much easier to disperse the food that way.
Let’s face it, people are skeptical about “Church”. With all the scandal in the news, people are cautious about going into buildings. If there’s not clear visibility and access to see what’s going on, it could be a barrier to them coming in. If the foyer is cramped and there are a lot of people milling around it could make a person nervous to go all the way inside.
I would also like to suggest that if a building has an old “churchy” feel to it then it will be less inviting to many today. A person told me recently, “My colleagues I work with would think they are walking into an episode of Little House on the Prairie if they came to our church.”
Evaluate, Pray, Listen
So what are we to do? Firstly, evaluate. Take a look at your assembly building and ask the basic question of what kind of an atmosphere it creates. What changes could be made to help the assembly be more inviting and easier to access. Secondly, pray. Ask the Lord to give direction and wisdom as to whether or not he wants some changes. And lastly, listen. Be open to whatever the Lord has in store.
Maybe it means ripping out the pews and getting chairs, new lighting, audio/video system and decorating with a modern décor. Maybe it means tearing down a wall to the entrance and building a new glass foyer with a larger space that is more inviting. Maybe it means moving to a new location that has more visibility, access and land to build new.
Seek the Lord for even the logistical things so we can better glorify him and grow the kingdom of God.