Buy or Rent
Posted by gradywalton
Several years ago I had the opportunity to be part of a new church plant in a community experiencing dramatic growth. The church—we’ll call it the Salt House—was leasing warehouse space for their sanctuary. The vision and philosophy of Salt House leaders was to have a church that did not aspire to purchasing land or owning a building. The goal was to use the church’s monetary resources on building the Kingdom of God—through outreach ministries and planting other churches—rather than pouring funds into a building. This seemed wise, especially to those who understood that division in the congregation can arise when a church embarks on a campaign to purchase land and develop a building as a permanent site. And yet something in my little inner voice urged caution. I thought, what happens to the church when the lease ends? The conventional wisdom of the time said we would simply renew the lease or find another building to rent. After all, a lot of new churches were meeting in warehouses and public school gymnasiums. That was then, this is now.
After more than ten years the Salt House lease ended and the property owner said no renewal because the owner intended to use the church space to expand their business. For a variety of reasons, church leaders could not find another building to lease. They eventually had to set-up shop in a local high school down the road. This caused disruption to the rhythm of church life at Salt House. A few people left.
Here’s the thing: Choosing to not buy a building can place a church at the mercy of market and political forces. Property developers and politicians have their own agendas. Property owners can raise rates so high as to be unaffordable for small and medium size churches. Politicians and school boards can suddenly decide they will no longer rent school space to religious organizations. The cultural and political winds are shifting in America; the church is no longer given as much deference as in the past. It’s now a risky proposition for any church to place itself at the mercy of secular forces, be they business or political or whatever.
Yes, I believe the Lord watches over his church. I understand the church is the people not the building. I get it. But I also believe the Lord expects his people to be shrewd. I know we can’t take risk completely out of the equation, especially when advancing the message of Christ. I understand the Lord can use difficulties such as searching for a building wherein to worship in order to grow our faith. But I wonder if we tend to get enraptured with new ideas that sound good but ultimately place us in a precarious position. With the benefit of hindsight, I’m not sure Salt House accomplished much more for the Kingdom of God than many churches that own a building.
I know of another church that has moved five times in ten years. They are now buying a building and the payments will be less than renting. What a blessing! The people of that church are ready to own.
Perhaps we are people with a strong sense of place because God placed (pun intended) it in our hearts. God led the Israelites to a specific place. Ancient cities had temples for gathering and worship. The early church met in the homes of believers. Jesus is preparing a place for us in heaven. In an increasingly transient culture, perhaps a reliable place to gather is more valuable than ever. If they reject ostentatious displays, I think churches can own a building and still have resources for Kingdom of Heaven ministries.