Do you want to unify your church? Do you want to give the congregation a common mission that they can strive for as a community? Do you want your church to grow? I think that most pastors would answer a resounding "yes" to all of these questions. With the Holy Spirit's guidance, there are quite a few healthy ways to achieve these results, but building a new facility is not one of them.
Pastors, architects and designers have saddled millions of dollars of debt onto the backs of their beloved churches thinking that doing so would be a small price to pay. They rationalized that the new building created through the debt would "create momentum," or "bring the church together" while making room for scores of unbelievers to know and accept Jesus as their personal Savior.
Instead, once healthy churches took on such an exorbitant amount of debt that they could no longer provide ministries that had formerly strengthened their congregations and reached out in love to their communities. Churches that were once vibrant and growing actually stopped growing because they no longer had the resources necessary to properly shepherd their flocks. They also lost sight of their true mission as they unintentionally put all of their focus on the building campaign.
The only real reason that a church should consider building a new facility is if the current facility is completely maxed out and the church has run out of other options. In his book, When Not To Build, former architect and current consultant Ray Bowman says that a church has to pass the "motivation test" the "need test" and the "financial readiness" test before it is ready to start a building campaign.
"When [the] pastor and people have come to see buildings merely as tools and nothing more, the church passes the motivation test," Bowman says, "When a church is so fully utilizing its facilities that it can find no alternative to building [that is] less costly in time, energy, and money, it passes the need test."
"And when a church is living within the income God has provided and can build without resorting to borrowing or dipping into funds needed for ministry to people, the church passes the financial readiness test."
Bowman, who worked as an architect for 30 years constructing ministry facilities before transitioning to church consulting, says that he went from simply designing the types of buildings that churches expected to asking facility questions from a completely new and different perspective. As a consultant he was forced to see the present and future facilities through the lenses of ministry and outreach.
"Most churches, I realized, build too big, build too soon, or build the wrong kind of building," he said. "It was painful for me to admit that I had encouraged these misguided practices, and that for 30 years much of my well-intentioned advice had actually hurt the churches I had worked with."
Since figuring this out, Bowman has made it his mission to make sure that churches know when to build and when not to build. His team at Living Stones Associates works with churches nationwide helping them navigate through change and comprehend what that change should look like in their unique situation.