Should Your Church Build a Bigger Building?

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Rob Fall's picture

in our pie in the sky, way out side the box thinking moments we are contemplating a multi-story building with a combination of commercial\retail, residential, and meeting spaces.
 

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

JohnBrian's picture

next question.

But maybe you wanted more of an answer!

Start a new church and invite some of your current congregation to be part of that church plant.

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Larry Nelson's picture

JohnBrian wrote:

Question: Should Your Church Build a Bigger Building?

Answer: No. next question.

But maybe you wanted more of an answer!

Start a new church and invite some of your current congregation to be part of that church plant.

 

Charles Spurgeon's New Park Street Chapel would seat 1,200 when he arrived.  It was later expanded, but still couldn't accommodate the growing congregation. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Park_Street_Chapel

So what did the church do?  It built the (original) Metropolitan Tabernacle, which could hold up to 6,000 (and still overflowed).

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I was at Fourth Baptist Church (now in Plymouth, MN) in 1974 when it built its 2,000 seat auditorium at the church's former north Minneapolis location.  The new auditorium replaced the older 1921 auditorium, which I believe would seat about 900.  (Fourth still kept & used the old auditorium for other purposes.)

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So my question for JohnBrian (or others) is this: were these two churches wrong to build larger buildings?

Bert Perry's picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

<snip>

 

So what did the church do?  It built the (original) Metropolitan Tabernacle, which could hold up to 6,000 (and still overflowed).

 

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I was at Fourth Baptist Church (now in Plymouth, MN) in 1974 when it built its 2,000 seat auditorium at the church's former north Minneapolis location.  The new auditorium replaced the older 1921 auditorium, which I believe would seat about 900.  (Fourth still kept & used the old auditorium for other purposes.)

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So my question for JohnBrian (or others) is this: were these two churches wrong to build larger buildings?

I'd argue it's at least debateable.  Doc Clearwaters preached to fill that big auditorium; his successors left, shall we say, a few seats empty.  In my view, a good portion of the ministry of Matt Morrell is to reconcile Doc's vision with modern reality and pastors of "lesser than Doc" magnetism, and some of the same for Doug MacLachlan before him.  

Same basic thing with Spurgeon; he filled it, his successors.....did not.  I would guess that Perry Noble's church is seeing a few empty seats, even with some great music, now that he's been let go.  There seems to be some balance between building to allow a spectacular pastor to work out his calling--hey, the first church baptized 3000 people on day 1, right?--and remembering that one's successor might not be as magnetic enough to hold the whole enterprise together.

One of the things I treasure most about Fourth, to use that example, is how they've chosen to found new churches as they moved out of Minneapolis.  It shows a great appreciation for the necessity of growing new leaders and distributing the responsibility of teaching and making disciples.  Now that's not impossible in a larger church, but I'd argue you at least have to be more creative about it.

It is worth noting as well, to use 4th as an example, that that big old auditorium is gone, if I remember correctly.  Minneapolis schools bought it and found that they couldn't make it work, either.  While certainly we can speak of reasonable depreciation schedules--we do not need to be like the medievals and build for a millenium--I think we do need to consider whether we're confident that what we're building will be likely to work as long as the mortgage lasts.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry Nelson's picture

 

I gave two examples above of churches building bigger buildings, because I believe they are sometimes necessary.  But are they the only option for growing churches though?  Of course not.

One financially-responsible way that churches can grow in their existing buildings is by choosing an option that fundamentalism has long resisted: offering multiple service times.  Fundamentalism has generally been of the mindset that all attendees of a church must meet in one room, at one time, otherwise church unity is somehow not being maintained. 

At my church, we have long offered multiple service times to meet our capacity needs:

1. When I arrived in Setember 2000, we had three weekend services that met in a roughly 450 seat auditorium: two on Sunday mornings; one on Sunday evening.  [1,350 total seats available.] 

2. Within a couple of years, we enlarged the auditorium to about 750 seats, and reverted to two services: both on Sunday mornings.  [1,500 total seats available.] 

3. That schedule lasted for about three years, at which time we needed to open an overflow auditorium, seating about 300, to increase capacity during the 2nd Sunday morning service.  [1,800 total seats available.]

4. Perhaps five years ago, we moved to a three Sunday morning service-schedule, all in the main auditorium.  [2,250 seats available.]

5. in August 2014, we launched a four-service weekend schedule: three on Sunday mornings, one on Saturday evening, all in the main auditorium.  [3,000 total seats available.]

6. In August 2015, we again opened an about 300 seat overflow auditorium for our 2nd & 3rd Sunday morning service times.  (There is live music in this room, with the sermon live-streamed in.)  [3,600 total seats available.]

Our people have mostly taken this all in stride.

So we're now up to six weekend services, at four different service times, with two of those times using two separate auditoriums in our building.  Our record attendance for four service times?: more than 3,400.  This past Easter, with the addition of a fifth service time, we had 4,000.  [In case anyone is wondering, our pastor preaches a typically 45 minute sermon at each service time.]

Yep, our services are often full.  Packed.  We're running out of options again.  So what have we decided to do?  Two things: In October, we will open a second site, about 7 miles away from us.  Yep, we're becoming a multi-site.  (Did I mention that we've planted seven other churches since 1971---including four since I arrived in 2000?)  We also break ground on an addition to our building next March: a new 1,100 seat auditorium.  Once that is finished, in conjunction with our existing 750 seat main auditorium, we'll have 1,850 seats available per service time.  (The 300 seat overflow room we're using now will revert to its previous use.) 

Even so, we'll still have fewer seats than Fourth Baptist's 2,000 seat auditorium that I remember from my youth........  

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Grace Church in Eden Prairie, MN built a massive (340,000 square feet; 4,500 seat) building that opened in 2002:

http://www.a-p.com/project/worship/grace-church  (Check out the picture slides.)

http://info.aia.org/aiarchitect/thisweek03/tw0228/0228twgracechurch.htm 

With average attendance of around 5,000, this is a large church; but this building was built with much higher (multi-service) capacity in mind. 

Meanwhile, the church has big mortgage payments to meet.  So how do they generate additional revenue?  They rent the building out, frequently (examples):

1. Ken Ham holds an Answers in Genesis conference there:

 https://answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2012/04/30/hungry-people-in-m...

2. A nearby community college holds its graduation ceremonies there:

http://www.normandale.edu/current-students/graduation-and-commencement/c...

3. Several local public high schools also hold their graduations at the church (example):

http://sailor.mnsun.com/2016/06/15/minnetonka-seniors-exit-one-stage-ent...

4. Tony Dungy speaks at a special men's event:

http://www.gettyimages.com/event/arise-with-the-guys-547576799?#tony-dun...

5. There is steady stream of CCM concerts:

http://www.songkick.com/venues/337231-grace-church/gigography

Plus, there is a locally-based credit union that holds an annual member's meeting there, local corporations rent it for special employee events, etc.

With the largest church auditorium in the state of Minnesota (and parking for 2,000 cars), their building has become a popular venue for all sorts of events.........

Larry Nelson's picture

 

This isn't necessarily on the OP topic, but I think it's interesting:

Excerpt: "Over 10,000 people (including over 4,000 at the two school assemblies) attended the sessions Sunday through Monday at the AiG conference held at Grace Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota (near Minneapolis).

We rarely experience such support as we received from the Senior Pastor and all the other pastors/leadership at this church, which is well known in the region for teaching God’s Word unashamedly, boldly, and uncompromisingly! What a blessing it was for us to be at such a church. This church also teaches apologetics to the young people to equip them to be able to defend the Christian faith. They bring their young people to the Creation Museum each year!"

https://answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2012/05/01/over-10000-in-minnesota/ 

Mark_Smith's picture

With all do resect, is it any business of yours or ours what Grace Church in Eden Prairie, MN does with their facilities? Of course I am assuming they aren't sinful activities.

 

Is it any business of yours what another church does? How about you focus your own facility rather than judging what other people do with theirs.

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Mark_Smith wrote:

With all do resect, is it any business of yours or ours what Grace Church in Eden Prairie, MN does with their facilities? Of course I am assuming they aren't sinful activities.

 

Is it any business of yours what another church does? How about you focus your own facility rather than judging what other people do with theirs.

 

Mark, why do you assume I'm criticizing them?  I'm not......not at all.   In fact, I'm applauding their creativity in making this facility work.  And through their rental activities, a vast number of people are gaining exposure to the ministries of this church who otherwise might not.

I have several friends who go there....and I've visited there.   Virtually everyone at the church admits that, at the present, they are overbuilt. 

In highlighting what they are doing, I wanted to display them as an example of how to effectively cope with being in such a situation.

I'm delighted at the impact they are having in the area.  As Ken Ham stated, they are widely known for preaching an uncompromising gospel.

Bert Perry's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

With all do resect, is it any business of yours or ours what Grace Church in Eden Prairie, MN does with their facilities? Of course I am assuming they aren't sinful activities.

 

Is it any business of yours what another church does? How about you focus your own facility rather than judging what other people do with theirs.

This is one of those cases where we can learn from the difficulties and mistakes of others.  Grace Church's facility was built under the stewardship of one pastor who sadly fell into sexual sin and was removed by his deacon/elder board.  So on one hand, their case illustrates the difficulties that can arise when a magnetic personality is followed by someone of lesser charisma, and it also indicates that we ought to be careful about hiring a pastor because we're in love with his charisma!

On the flip side, their hosting of various community events is a good example of how a church might use their facility in such a way as to justify the capital expense.  For reference, I often drove or rode my bicycle by this church on my way to and from work when I lived in Chaska, and in that time--2003-2009--I rarely saw much going on on weekdays.  Big, empty parking lot.  But that said, with a facility like that, they could have hosted daycare for pretty much anybody in Eden Prairie who needed it.  Plus Minnetonka and Chanhassen, maybe.  :^)  Who knows whether such a venture would have flown, of course.

One other question that arises for me--and I'm repeating myself here (guilty)--is that while most churches seem to do a weak job of making disciples these days, I wonder if bigger churches struggle even more because of the relative anonymity of such a large setting--again, I think even more than usual, a church would have to be intentional about the matter.  Not impossible, but certainly difficulties would arise.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.