Whew. Another year’s Charge Conference behind us. One of the challenges our church faces is our old church plant. We celebrated the centennial of the sanctuary this past spring. The fellowship hall and education building are 50 years old and are clearly showing their age. Starting before I arrived as pastor in 2003, the church has been engaged in an extensive program of renovation centered on the sanctuary. The building interior was renovated (finished the week I arrived), leaving us with a current debt of 250k. We just finished the 46k renovation of the stained glass windows, and the 34k roof job. We ony lack about 23k for the 185k renovation of the pipe organ. Lurking ominously in the background is the need for getting a bid to level the shifting foundation (we wish we didn’t see the cracks in the walls). The fellowship hall/education building also has a shifting foundation and a 50 year old asbestos roof. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know about the loss of our recently renovated youth building. Just opened in February, an arsonist burnt it down in July.
Do you get an idea that money might be on the minds of the congregation? Do you also get an idea of how that money might be used? As far as these capital expenses go, the money is going entirely toward fixing old things. Having fixed old things is better than having unfixed old things, but there seems to be a different kind of attitude that goes with repairing the old than building the new.
Many would like to build a new youth center to replace the one that was destroyed. In a community where the other leading churches (i.e., the baptists) already have new youth facilities, it’s mighty tempting to jump on the “if you build it they will come” train. Clearly, some people think that way. They make a direct connection between a church’s investment in facilities for youth and the church’s commitment to youth. If there are no – or substandard (when compared with other local churches) – facilities dedicated for youth, then they’ll take their youth elsewhere.
I understand how children look at these things. When I was a kid I’d much ratrher have something new than something old. What’s the ratio of kids who want their old clothes constantly repaired to those who want new clothes to replace the old? As a culture, we tend to value the new over the old (unlike the ancients who valued the old over the new).
In a historic church like this there are both kinds of people: lovers of the old and lovers of the new. Too often, they think they’re desires are not only incompatible, but so righteous that they must be imposed on the whole body – “or else I’ll quit.” In times like this one of my main jobs is reminding people that we’re in the people business. Building have a purpose – they can be a great blessing. But they can also sap the energy, finances and missional drive of a church.