To build any building requires a huge amount of effort, time and money, and whatever the nature of your project, the process of getting from where you are to where you want to be will significantly disrupt your ‘business as usual’. You should therefore expect a building project to have a sizeable impact on the life of the Church. This is not an argument to sit on your hands and do nothing, but it makes it really important to be clear about why you are embarking on your voyage. There are a number of key questions that are worth answering before you start, and this chapter gives you three of the most important ones. Churches are in the business of mission, and if a building project is not to be a huge distraction you will need to be really clear about why it is worth expending all of these resources.
Try writing a short document, perhaps as bullet points – it need be no more than a page – addressing the following 3 Questions:
A: What Sort Of Project Is This?
Many churches who create or change a building make the mistake of thinking that they’re engaged in a building project. In our view, it’s better to think of your project as primarily ‘a mission project, that happens to involve a building’. The pragmatic issue is that very few people get excited enough about buildings to be willing to put the resources into them to bring them to reality – having a nice building is just too far from the core business of what being a church is. On the other hand, if you can demonstrate that the project is rooted in your mission as a church, then you are much more likely both to build the right project, and to sustain the energy and the sacrificial giving that will see your project through to a successful conclusion. So the most basic question is: What are you trying to achieve through this building?
B: Where Do You Stand?
In the Church we are used to answering this sort of question in terms of doctrine and belief, and churches may have a statement of faith precisely to answer that question in this way. A building project prompts a parallel set of questions about where you stand with respect to the culture and community around you. How do you relate to the people in your area? Are you really as open and available as you like to think you are. How might you get an outside view on this? These are issues covered in more depth in chapter 2.1 on Community Engagement. Understanding where your Church stands within its community will in turn make you think about the culture of your organisation, which is a crucial aspect of your church life to keep under review.
C: What On Earth Do You Think You’re Doing?
This is a question that can be asked aggressively, as if to say ‘How could you be so stupid?! Or it can be asked as a genuine question: ‘What do you believe you are called by God to be doing in your particular place?’ This is a question not just about activity, but about vocation – What are you called to be? Don’t start your project unless you have an adequate answer to this, but equally don’t be surprised if your vocation changes in response to new opportunities that the building presents you with.
Joined Up Thinking
Buildings get built for all sorts of reasons, some good, such as addressing an urgent need, some less good, perhaps as a means of not facing up to an issue, or out of vanity. The difference between the two often comes down to knowing your broader purpose, which means knowing what business you’re in and what you are called to be. This sense of vocation is something that may well shift and move as you engage with the issues and learn to ask better questions. Rather than being like a single statement that is valid for all time, vocation is more like an ongoing conversation. And because it is such a big item, a building will demand that you engage in that conversation.