Building programs. Surely that phrase ranks somewhere on the top ten most polarizing issues in church life.

Having pastored a church through a building program, I know first-hand about the added stress and strain they can cause. At the same time, I recognize the benefits that new facilities offer.

Like any other major decision in the life of a church, the question of whether or not to build a new facility requires great amounts of prayer, discussion, deliberation, and wisdom. In my opinion, it is wise to start from a “no” position until it becomes a “must” situation. Here are several reasons why:

  • Building programs will compete for the attention of the congregation. It takes great planning and intentional communication to keep the church’s focus on mission.
  • Building programs cause stress on leaders. Sermon planning, outreach efforts, discipleship opportunities, and care ministries are often interrupted by a contractor’s immediate question, the architects’ urgent concerns, and the construction crew’s noise.
  • Building programs require great financial resources. Money given to the church belongs to Christ (actually, it already belonged to Christ). The church has a responsibility to steward God’s money in a way that reflects His priorities. That’s something that cannot be taken lightly.
  • Building programs set limits. This sound counterintuitive because we usually think the idea of building is to respond to the limits of current facilities. However, building a building that seats 400, 800, or 1,200 just sets another limit. What happens when you are at capacity in the new facility and yet you still owe a few million dollars on it?

For these reasons, I urge pastors and congregations to be very hesitant to jump into a building program. Of course, there are times when building is the right thing to do. Here are some circumstances that could cause you to move from a “no” to a “must:”

  • When the church has a legitimate need for a new facility. If you have run out of room or if your current building is unsafe or beyond repair, a new facility may be in order.
  • When renting costs more than building. This is typically an issue for new church plants. In many areas, renting is affordable and great facilities are available. In other locations, the selection of rental properties large enough for your congregation may be expensive or non-existent.
  • When the church has enough money in savings. There are differing perspectives on whether churches should borrow money. However, everyone must agree that good stewardship requires that major decisions avoid putting the congregation in financial danger.
  • When the new facility design can be used for multiple purposes. If you are going to spend a large sum of money on a building, don’t you want to make sure you get the most use out of it as possible? In other words, is it worth millions for a facility that is only utilized 2 hours per week?
  • When the building is viewed as a ministry tool. When people give money toward the construction of the facility –are they giving to a building, or a ministry? The purpose and design of the building must be a part of the overall mission of the church. People need to be able to speak of how they will reach the community, make disciples, launch missionaries, and exalt Christ through the facility. Otherwise, it will become an idol.

Finally, here are a few bad reasons to move your “no” to a “must:”

  • New buildings attract new people. That may be true, but consider this: the only people who are attracted to new church buildings are those who are already church people. Unbelievers typically don’t get excited about new church buildings.
  • Building projects excite people. Sure, but think about what they are getting excited about -a building. Sounds like a shallow replacement for revival, doesn’t it?
  • We’ve got the money. While that’s a great situation, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to build. What else could the church do with that money to advance the Kingdom?

I admit this is not an exhaustive list. Would you please share factors you think are important when considering a building program? I’d love to collect your thoughts and share them with pastors and churches.