Steve Bremner

Author, Podcaster & Writing Coach

Church Building: The Cart Before the Horse?This post is a 4 min read

Church comes as a result of discipling. Discipleship ought to be the backbone and cause of ‘church’, not the other way around. The tail isn’t intended to wag the dog. Likewise, you can’t teach how to be a disciple by imparting information once every week. Discipleship is modeled with imitation.

I have to admit I am using the word “building” as a double entendre as opposed to saying church planting.

We don’t go to church to “get fed”. Church is not meant to be like a gas station where we go to get filled and then go about the rest of our lives again once the weekly feeding process is over. Pastors are meant to lead, yes. But they are not to be showman with a hired band to provide an event to attract multitudes.

I remember over a decade ago when I lived in Holland I was talking a friend I’d made who had just become the associate pastor of a new state-side church plant. If my memory serves me correctly, he told me that they were a small house church of about a dozen people and through some series of circumstances they had inherited a large old building that had formerly belonged to a mainline denominational church. He was discussing ideas with us for how to draw crowds out to the services so that they could have enough members so they could pay the monthly mortgage on this building.

I didn’t know then what I know now, but I do remember wondering at the time why they even accepted the building in the first place if they were such a small congregation that paying the bills was beyond their means? It’s one thing to have faith and vision for growth, but it was clear in listening to him that they would need an explosion of growth of which they sounded like they couldn’t yet reasonably expect or rely on save for a miracle or revival breakout, I’d guess. But I appreciated his honesty in telling me they needed to come up with ways to ‘attract’ people to fill the pews, and generate income to pay for this building.

It seemed to me the building had already caused them to lose their focus and now they needed to draw in more people so that they could have more tithe money to pay the heat and hydro.

As I look back on it, I can only wonder what kind of teachings about finances and tithing the pastor would have been tempted to preach as he looked over the bills that came in for that property, and compared it with the small number of butts that were planted in the pews.

Sadly I think many churches in the West through no fault necessarily of their own are stuck in a predicament like that, or are motivated in various ways to ‘attract’ people to an event. A lot of what I read from people about discipleship in their e-books and blogs revolve more accurately around leadership than discipleship, per se. They’re more about how to get people to gather around the leader or visionary, and whether they admit it or not, around their vision and ministry.

Discipleship on the other hand is about drawing out of people the vision and ministry they have in them, as a result or fruit of growing them into maturity (see Ephesians 4:11-16).

If you’ve been around my blog for the last few years, you’ll notice I advocate more for an organic method of church growth — create disciples first and then worry about the building we’ll meet in later. As my friend and mentor Dr Stephen Crosby says, let the relationship dictate the structure, and not the other way around.

If we start with a building we need to fill, or services we “need” to have, then we wind up being tempted to resort to natural logical ideas created by our circumstances. And according to statistics, it’s that cat-and-mouse game of attracting attendees so we can have enough capital so we can fulfill the church or the pastor’s vision (or maybe simply his own desires?), that causes us to inadvertently create “the dones”.

Do you think we lose our focus when our bills (need for finances) become the focus of our mission?

About Steve Bremner

Steve the coffee drinker is a Canadian missionary to Peru, who is called to raise up disciples who flow in the power of the Holy Spirit within a missional community named Oikos. If you like Steve's blog, you'll also like his Kindle books. Note: this post may have contained affiliate links of which the author receives a small commission if you purchase something recommended in the post.