This is a real question for several churches I know and love. With a building, we get a place to gather and it’s often a placed drenched with community or personal history. With a pastor, we get someone to cast a vision and equip the other leaders to do ministry.
Some churches are identified by their pastors (i.e. “I’m part of Lillian Daniel’s church.”)
Some churches are identified by their buildings (i.e. “The stone church with the beautiful windows on the corner.”)
What if we could only afford one?
The truth is that pastors are expensive, especially in denominations that require congregations to contribute to health benefits and pension plans. But most thriving congregations have full-time professional ministers.
It’s also true that many churches have loved their buildings more than they love God. I, for one, love church buildings, but their purpose is to be a tool for ministry. Few of us can afford to have a expensive tool that we use for only a few hours a week.
I’m not encouraging churches to become landlords because renting space is not ministry. Sure, our renters might do good things (e.g. teach preschoolers, support addicts, offer legal aid) but that’s their ministry, not ours. Most of us have nominal relationships with the Scout troops or the partner churches that use our buildings.
We have entered a season when, increasingly, congregations will need to choose between keeping their pastor or keeping their building.
- I would love to see more congregations make brave decisions like Arlington Presbyterian Church in Arlington, VA.
- I would love to see more new church plants meeting in community places like Common Table in Vienna, VA.
Of course, most of our churches have and want both a pastor and a building. But if you really had to choose, which would you pick? We might have to make this decision in our lifetime.
OR we could rethink/restart/reconstruct the church as we know it.
Image of a gathering of one of my favorite spiritual communities: Common Table in Vienna, VA.