Building a Church In and For The Community
In 2004, religious facility construction was an $8 billion a year industry in the U.S. That's a lot of church buildings. At the same time, other research was emerging that indicated that church attendance and growth had plateaued or was declining. We saw a massive stewardship issue—how could so many churches be renovating and building new facilities and yet not experiencing growth, either in attendance or in spiritual maturity?
We felt then as we do today that it’s not good enough for us to simply guide churches through a successful building project. We want churches to be successful overall—to have spaces that truly impact ministry and inspire change so the church can grow instead of just exist.
To help turn the tide from merely building better church buildings to building better churches, we began to look for themes in the churches that were flourishing in numbers and in transformative life change. As we looked across denominations, church sizes, and regions, one common thread ran through them all—they were aligned in four specific areas:
Churches that understand the times--the culture in which we live--stay relevant and can adapt to changing needs. Aligned churches understand their mission field and who they are called to serve. They also know, in specific terms, how they plan to address those needs.
Want to learn how to leverage your church facility to make an impact in your local community? Watch the video here:
Aligned churches have a leadership team that is in sync, not only around their mission, vision, and values, but also around their church’s calling to reach and serve the community. This is key. Churches that are focused on being in and for the community build a leadership team to support strategic outreach.
Ministry includes all of the things churches do to accomplish their mission. Churches that are aligned on ministry objectives are pulling in the same direction. Churches that are focused on making an impact and gaining influence in their communities align ministry initiatives and programming around their goals to reach into the community.
Aligning facilities is where I often receive the most pushback because people say, "Oh, of course, you include facilities as a key factor for alignment. You're a facility guy.” Having been on both sides of the table (I helped lead my church through a building project before I ever joined Aspen), I know firsthand that aligning your facility with the culture, leadership, and ministry creates a frictionless way to ensure that every key aspect of your church is telling the same story.
Aligning your facility means creating space that enhances your ministry impact. Churches that are focused on being in and for the community will reflect this mission and value in the ministry space they create. You can say you're a church that's in and for the community, but if your church building says otherwise and shows no evidence of this value, this misalignment will hinder your growth.
In today's culture, church leaders are competing against the rapidness of change, people's busy lives, and an overall cultural disconnect from church. With all of these forces in play, we see the church wrestling with the question of how to regain influence in our culture.
In order to gain influence, we must first have insight. We have to be curious and step into our communities, talk to community leaders and business developers about the community and its needs. As we build trusting relationships outside of the church, we gain the opportunity to make an impact on our community. As our impact grows and the community can see positive results from us being part of the community, over time we gain influence.
An Aligned Church
One church that provides a good example of how insights lead to impact that leads to influence is Parkview Community Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Our conversation with Parkview Community about their facility strategy included a very different question than we usually hear. Parkview had reached a point in their growth where they could invest in their current location to make it bigger and better, or they could expand by going multisite.
As they've studied the landscape and wrestled with alignment over the last couple of years, they looked to their neighboring community to gain some insight. They found people with many needs in a specific neighboring town.
Parkview said, "We have resources. We have people. We have talent. We can bring the love of Jesus to that community without bringing a church to that community." Parkview's people are now serving in the schools. They have been in the community building relationships, getting to know folks.
What’s exciting in this conversation is not the question of when to build a church. Instead, the conversation is, "When we do build, we will build a facility that's aligned with the work we're doing in the community. We will build a tool that will help serve the community and the ministry we're doing there. When we do a church there, it will be a pull, not a push. When the folks there have been brought to Jesus, they will say, ‘We should do church,' and then it will become a church."
Parkview offers an excellent example of what it looks like to be an aligned church that's in and for the community. They understand who they are as a church, what their mission field is, and how they can serve the needs of their neighboring community.
Churches that are aligned at the intersection of culture, leadership, ministry, and facilities experience real growth. These are the churches that you’ll find at the center of their communities—churches that are in and for the community.
About Greg Snider
Greg Snider joined Aspen Group, a design/build/furnish firm for churches, in 1999. Since that time, he has worked with a wide range of churches throughout the past two decades, including many large, innovative, multisite congregations. His mission is to help churches discover how to maximize their facilities and create space for ministry impact. He has written and presented on the power of connecting space, growth engines and barriers, and how to build churches for community impact.