Saturday, December 13, 2008

Misguided Misgivings 5: A cost too high

The typical attractional church model costs too much to multiply effectively. Buildings, budgets and bigshots are the roadblocks to reproduction of churches. Salaries, rents/mortgages, equipment, advertising the list of expenses is long. In today’s turbulent times many in church are feeling the resources drying up. Last week I was in a pastor’s meeting and many were wondering how their churches would continue. Some were selling their facilities just for survival. We will see more and more of this in the coming year.

Survival is one thing, but reaching a city proactively is another entirely. I have seen a report of research to determine what it would take to reach the US. In the report the financial costs to reach particular cities for Christ using the traditional attractional model of church are listed. The results are alarming. Just to reach one city alone would be astronomical. The study shows that to reach Atlanta would cost over $63 billion. To reach New York City alone would cost more $418 Billion. Where would we expect such money to come from? I guarantee you the government is not going to bail us out on this one.

Giving USA
, a non-profit foundation that studies philanthropy in the United States, in its 2008 report found $103.32 billion went to houses of worship and denominational organizations in 2007. That entire amount could only reach the greater Washington DC area and would leave the rest of our country lost. But of course, if it did go to that cause it would not cover any of the costs of all our current churches and ministries and they would all go out of business. This says nothing of reaching the rest of the world.

If you want to compare the attractional model against the organic/missional model of church I think the cost alone makes it clear which is a more reasonable approach.

This is just not a good way to reach a city for Christ, let alone a world. There are better ways. We could reach the cities faster and for a fraction of the cost with a simpler approach to church.

What we need to be about is the reproduction of healthy disciples, leaders, churches and movements, in that order. We cannot focus on complex and expensive systems and try and reproduce them if we do not first reproduce the simple and more basic entities first. We do not start churches to make disciples. We must make disciples, and then churches will start. It doesn’t cost a dime to make a disciple, it only costs your life.


Anonymous said...

Hey Neil!

It is hard communicating this way on comments, but wanted to comment.

I have to disagree about your thought of money and buildings and all. I can see how it can be abused. But putting it practically and for most impact, when you think of something like Compassion International. They help tens of thousands of children across the world. They have a pretty large campus, building, all types of costs that way. But as their headquarters is used, they then are able to train and function as a source and center for so much impact. If a dozen organic churches got together in Colorado Springs, they would not have any near the impact of using a large facility for major global impact.

If a church sees themselves as missional training centers (as I hope they do) then their buildings become instrumental in serving as a training center for seeing hundreds and thousands trained to then see hundreds and thousands impacted. I agree if the church sees their building as a place to simply hide in, or to consume - then I agree with you. But churches are using their facilties to train and equip and encourage Christians missionally in ways during the week by using their facilities in that way.

So I agree with you, but the impact is tremendous when a church sees their efforts and usage of space in this way. I just talked to a church in San Jose who built a new building. They have been moitvating their people and teaching them missionally. because of their size, they were able to rally people to come up with 500 backpacks with school supplies only on a week's notice when the need came up. Because they meet in a building, because they are larger they then literally supplied an entire grade of kids in need with backpacks when they heard the need. The building served as a motivating training center for on Sunday, the building serves as headquarters for the church's mission, the building serves as a classroom setting during the week to train people, the building serves as a place to gather the supplies and then deliver them. This is but one thing they are doing, I just heard a whole list from a pastor at the church about what they have done this past year. Thousands have been helped in the Bay Area because of this church and using their building as a ministry headquarters. So realize that not all churches use buildings for consumerism only. There is much good happening all across the country that speeds up and has great impact because having the sapce to be meeting, training and coordinating efforts like this which in turn impact thousands of people in need and the Christians involved by the hundreds and thousands serve Jesus as they are trained and get involved. There are so many stories like this....

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan.

Well, I am not saying that buildings are evil or even that they are not useful. Obviously having a building can be useful.

What I am saying is that needing a building to do church is "counter re-productive." In other words, it does not reproduce and it costs much.

That is the point of my post on "the cost is too high". If we need to start churches that will require a building (rent or mortgage) it will cost so much and not reproduce.

I need to be clear. Church growth is not a bad thing, but it is not the whole picture. Addition growth is still church growth, but church multiplication is whole other deal. Buildings can aid in addition growth, but are a roadblock for multiplication growth. That is my point.

The difference between multiplication impact and addition is seen several generations down the road. 2+2=4 and difference. But as each of the latter generations give birth to new generations then you will see a huge a difference. That is why comparing ten organic churches in Colorado Springs with one institutional church is not a fair comparison. If those organic churches reproduce (which is not always the case) then the comparison should be viewed four to five generations down the road.

The cost in money, man power and the payoff in impact is, in my opinion not worth it to settle for addition growth.

Actually, each of my posts on the subject have a logical flow and order to them. Take them as a whole.

Hope that helps,


Neil Cole said...


My point is not that buildings are wrong, evil or even unhelpful. I do not believe that. My point is that they do not reproduce, and cost much to acquire and maintain. They have a few other drawbacks as well, that I do not go into (maybe in another post later on).

There is a time and place where buildings are helpful. Necessary, I'm not so sure of, but helpful, yes.

The thing I think that is not getting across here is that the growth of organic/missional churches must be viewed several generations down the road. That where the difference between addition growth and multiplication growth is found--in succeeding generations.

For example, 2+2=4 and 2x2=4, in the first round they are equal. So you can compare one attractional church of 120 with 12 organic churches in Colorado Springs and find the same results. The difference is found in the fact that several of those organic churches will plant other organic churches that in turn will do the same. It will take much money and effort and a few years before the attractional church will be able to start one more church (if it will even do that).

All these posts I have put on the blog have a natural flow to them. That's why I went back and numbered them.

If we are content with addition growth then buildings are very useful. If we are wanting multiplication growth then buildings are a road block and a bottleneck. That is my point.

You cannot compare the global impact of a single generation of missional churches you have to look at the advancement of multiplication. THAT is important and the point I was making.

Besides that, the amount of money it would cost to reach our nation (let alone the world) with the attractional model is outrageous. I tried to make that point as well.

Compassion International is not a local church, so I do not see that it compares. My point is that the facilities cost alone makes reaching this world using the attractional model of church (either with rent or mortgages), impossible to afford.

Pressing on,


John Lambert said...

I have to say that I have mainly ignored the building vs. non building debate until I recently became a missionary to Thailand. Now that I am living among 65 million people with a less than 1% Christian population, I can say that I am definately paying more attention. It has been said that Thailand has had the Gospel in some form for 150 plus years, but most churches are still in the 30 people range and have stayed that way for decades. The worse part is that they are all attractional building model churches. I am looking at the definition of insanity afresh and thinking hard about what we can do differently here. I am just getting into your book "Organic Church" and my ministry partner and I are thinking very hard of praying, heading out to new villages with nothing in hand but our Bibles, looking for the person of peace, announcing the Kingdom, demonstrating the kingdom, and believing God for new churches. We are excited about what God will do, but more than that we are burdened to see something take root that can change a nation!