When last have you said any of the following?
What time does your church start?
Have you seen the small church on the corner of the street?
We are raising funds to build a church.
I will be leaving church at 2:30PM today.
This is my church.
Do you have church during the week?
We had so many people at church last Sunday.
For many of my years as a follower of Jesus, I have made these statements and asked these questions. From time to time, I still do. For a long time I saw nothing wrong with them. The problem is, Jesus would never have said any of this, except ‘this is My church’, and even then, He did not mean what I meant!
What we say about church often reflects what we believe about church. Our words and language have a way of showing what we value and what we prioritise. Owning or renting a building and running the right programmes can help a church fulfil her mission and advance God’s kingdom. But sadly, property and programmes can also become the main focus of ministry. When this happens, the church stops doing ministry like Jesus because people are no longer their priority. The aim of this post is not to pronounce a curse on any ministry making use of a building or a programme. Rather, this post serves to help us rethink the purpose and priority of buildings and programmes for a church’s ministry. Let us consider some benefits, dangers and goals for buildings and programmes so that we would become more Christ-like and people-centred in our approach to ministry.
The benefits of programmes and buildings
Buildings and property are a great ministry tool. They provide us with space, shelter, privacy and facilities to obey what Jesus calls believers to do: in summary – fellowship, evangelism, adoration, service and teaching. Great memories are also created in buildings as people encounter God and each other in these sacred spaces.
In the same way, programmes are tools to facilitate ministry. When a church understands the process of doing ministry like Jesus, the right programmes can be used to help people at different commitment levels grow to love God, love people and make disciples.
The dangers of programmes and buildings
In today’s ever changing world of technological advancements and the Information Age, it is easy to believe that ministry is all about the latest, cutting-edge programme, training or material and high-tech resources. Across Africa, many churches are spending a fortune on equipment and resources for buildings and programmes, where these funds could have been used to empower and transform the lives of the poor among them. Also, when ministry is defined by programmes and buildings alone, the church constantly needs a big budget to keep people interested.
Prioritising people over programmes and buildings
When ministry is centred on organic relationships with people, especially outside of formal church gatherings (programmes and buildings), more can be accomplished with less resources because – where possible – believers can also use more of their personal resources, possessions, property, to build relationships for disciplemaking.
Where churches already own property and buildings, these should be used more than just once or twice a week. Buildings are a great tool for holistic ministry in and with the community on a daily basis. Churches should prayerfully discern God’s purpose for the people in their ministry context, before purchasing, constructing, extending or hiring buildings for ministry.
In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said that He will build His church. Then in Matthew 28:19, He told us to make disciples. We often try to swop these roles. We want to build the church and then we hope He will give us disciples. And it does not work. Let us stop trying to build the church through fancy programmes and buildings. Let’s use our programmes and buildings to help us make disciples, and Jesus will build His church with these discipled people.
 Breen, M. 2011. Building A Discipling Culture: How To Release A Missional Movement By Discipling People Like Jesus Did (Chapter 1). Pawkey Island: 3DM