Church Planting - Should We Buy a Building?

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Barry L.'s picture

I've just moved my family to another metropolitan area and we are looking for churches. We've visited a church meeting on a university campus near us that we felt was a good fit for us; however, there is hesitancy in joining because they don't know how long they are going to be at the location or in that part of town. We don't feel it is good to join a church that is more than 30 minutes away. It would be too easy to skip services or not get involved in ministry if its that far away. 

I'm not saying that not having a permanent church structure hurts evangelism, but I do think it effects people becoming members when there is uncertainty of long term location. I definitely don't agree in a church spending a lot of money for new land and structures when land is so much cheaper with existing church structures when there are many of them for sale.

On a side note, I've noticed that conservative churches, now, aren't as aggressive in recruiting members as they were 25 years ago when we moved to our old location. Back then, as soon as you stepped in a church, they got your name, address, and a visit by the pastor was forthcoming. This move we've visited 7 churches and none have asked us for our name, not asked us to fill out a visitors card, and, of course, not followed up with a visit. Granted, I didn't like the mass intrusions 25 years ago; however, churches, today, have become much more passive.

Steve Davis's picture

A very good article with much to consider. Everyone’s experience will be different. Here is mine.

In 1982 we planted a church in Northwest Philly. We rented at least four locations in the first four years including a former movie theater turned Masonic Lodge, two church buildings, and community center. We had a faithful core but lost some and gained some every move.  A member died and left us 50K. With that money and what we had saved we were able to purchase a church building for 250K from a liberal denomination.  The moment we had a building we had more visitors including people who had thought about coming but wanted to be part of something established. That’s the way some people think. Others didn’t care where we moved or what building we had. It was more about relationships.  I went to France in 1988 and the church called another pastor before I left.  It was perhaps easier to get a pastor to come to an established church with property including parsonage. Several years ago the church sold that building for about 800k. They used part of the money to buy another church building in a better location but still the same general area. Then they sold that building for about 1.2 I think to a non-profit but are able to lease it back for 20 years, meet Sunday and other times. But they are free to leave and rent or buy elsewhere.  Looking back, it was a good decision to buy. All things being equal I'd rather have a settled place to meet but it takes time for church plants. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Interesting perspectives. I was Pastor of a small, rural church where the building had been paid for since the first Roosevelt administration, so I never had to deal with this question.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Steve Davis's picture

A more recent perspective:

In March 2010 we planted a church in West Philly. We rented for $1500 a month for Sunday afternoon only times.  We moved to rent another church, still afternoon times. For me it was a still part of the neighborhood. For outsiders it was on the edge of tougher area and we not only lost people but saw few visitors. We discovered why when we checked Google maps and saw the streets people would need to drive through and then leave church when it was dark in winter. We then finally found a morning rental on the third floor of a denominational headquarters building.  With a morning service our attendance rose, more visitors. Then we were kicked out when a split from a megachurch came with 150 people to start a new church and offered more rent. So we went back half-heartedly to our original afternoon rental. In the meantime we inherited an old building in North Philly, in the neighborhood where I grew up, and down the street from where I used to hang out. The church had been there 125 years but died with change in demographics. The building was old but with good bones, no parking, lots of work needed (needs) to be done.  Our West Philly afternoon rental wasn’t working out so this past May we combined the West Philly church with the North Philly church for morning worship with the intention to replant in West Philly if we found a good morning venue.  We haven’t and so we continue to meet combined in North Philly in a building we own. Most of the people from West Philly continue to come because of relationships. A few have dropped off but we are glad to help them find another place to worship.  So we are putting our time and resources in a place that we did not originally consider. The last place I would’ve considered when considering returning to Philadelphia in 2010 was my old neighborhood. The Lord has a sense of humor and is at work even when we’re not aware of what He’s doing. All-in-all I’d rather have a regular meeting place. There’s lots of maintenance but less weekly setup, a blessing and a burden. We have a parsonage and an annex for interns.  Some churches might find an appropriate rental facility that works for them long-term.  We didn’t in West Philly and with our proximity to the University of Penn and Drexel there are no buildings to buy or land to develop. 

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

TylerR wrote:

Interesting perspectives. I was Pastor of a small, rural church where the building had been paid for since the first Roosevelt administration, so I never had to deal with this question.

Granted, not having to look for or pay for a building can be a big blessing.  However, churches that old often have serious issues with traditionalism and/or certain personalities/families who have come to believe that they, not the Bible or even the ministry, are the true power behind the church, and let it be known in no uncertain terms to new members or new staff/pastors.  From what I have surmised from what you have written on SI, it seems you did run into some of that.  Personally, I'd rather have the building issues (and our church does, as we are currently renting and looking to buy a building or start one on a piece of property).

Dave Barnhart

TylerR's picture

Editor

You wrote:

However, churches that old often have serious issues with traditionalism and/or certain personalities/families who have come to believe that they, not the Bible or even the ministry, are the true power behind the church, and let it be known in no uncertain terms to new members or new staff/pastors

I perceive that thou art a prophet . . .

Honestly, if I went into ministry again, I would prefer to not have a building. I saw so much "building worship" at my former church. My wife and I seriously believe the healthiest thing that church could do going forward (if it still exists) is to dynamite the building and cart off the rubble, lest it turn into a shrine.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

I appreciate being able to find churches, especially when traveling, but the flip side is that if indeed there is going to be some mild difficulty for the church in the way that churches in China and North Korea experience, we might do well to figure out how to do house churches well.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.