I was in a church’s building recently in the Kansas City area, and I saw an escalator in the building. My first thought was, “How many poor people could this have fed?” And did anyone ask this question before purchasing and installing it? I don’t the answer to either of those questions but I know that if they did ask the question they ultimately placed the escalator of greater value. The Escalator won. The fact that we don’t ask this question before purchasing any sort of real-estate is disturbing to me.
Nowhere by Jesus or any of the authors of the New Testament are we commanded to buy buildings and use those to meet in. But consistently we are commanded to care for the poor, widow, alien, and fatherless. According to Frank Viola the Church in America owns 230 Billion dollars worth of real estate. If anyone didn’t know, church buildings are expensive. And it’s all money that would be better used for something we are commanded to do. Maybe “church buildings” are actually an obstacle to what we are commanded to do. The first 200 years of the church met in houses not “church buildings.” It wasn’t until between 234 and 256 that a house called Dura Europos was converted into a “church building.” After this church’s increasingly started building “church buildings” and converting existing temples into “church buildings.” After Constantine made Christianity legal this trajectory really took off. “Church buildings” got more elaborate and more expensive. And ever since then “church buildings” have been the norm.
It’s not necessary to have an official “church” to meet in, and with 230 billion in mind I believe its an obstacle to doing the work of the church. Imagine with me what the church in America alone could do with 230 billion dollars! Feeding the poor, supporting conservation efforts, supporting great organizations like the international justice mission are all things better suited to spending our money on. Instead, we could meet in houses, coffee shops, pubs, and schools. We could actually meet people in their communities where their already doing life, rather than expecting them to leave their communities and come to us. Imagine if Jesus had taken our normal approach. “Hey look guys I could become human and all, and come down to the earth and become part of your community, but nah, you guys need to relocate and come to me.” This would be absurd, the opposite of Incarnation. But this is actually how we model our lives and church in an anti-incarnational approach.
Instead of meeting people where they are, we expect them to come to us. This is backward from the ways of Jesus and the early church and how they did church. I think this is a product of having church buildings rather than having our church’s meet in places where community is already happening.
Are having buildings, comfy pews, escalators, 230 billion worth of real estate more important to us than doing what is actually the heart of Jesus? Taking care of the poor, widows, and fatherless. How many poor people could that escalator have fed?