Confession - I have been directly involved in both church building projects and mission building projects.
Many churches (from the first followers of Christ and then the communities in the Catacombs) have started in the most humble of physical surroundings.
In modern times, many newly formed congregations in our western society have hired school halls or council or community facilities when required.
As their membership grows, then their thoughts turn to a purpose-built church of their own, that will meet the needs of their own congregation, community aspirations and preferred style of worship.
Many suburban congregations today prefer a ‘multi-purpose’ complex, rather than the style of English village church or chapel, that Mark Tronson, chairman of Well-Being Australia, grew up with.
Churches are seeing the ancient wisdom of the ‘cathedral model’, in which the cathedral building itself was merely the central pillar of a complete community involving farms, schools, businesses, kitchens, hospitals, financial security facilities, libraries and all the associated employed people from the local village to staff such a ‘corporation’.
Even today, having visited many European cathedrals – although the building now sits alone on a small plot of land and no longer has the same influence or corporate structure of old – I’ve witnessed many different activities going on in different, specialised, parts of the building and grounds on any day of the week. It is like visiting a mini-town, or an active market place, he thinks.
The modern equivalent in Australia and the U.S. (which do not have the benefit of using such ancient large structures) is to build a new a large auditorium, which is not only used for weekly worship, but for many other activities on any day or night of the week. It will necessarily be wired for all the latest electronic media to enhance the service, or any other performance. Perhaps, if you visit, you would see a school concert or drama session, or the local film club showing vintage movies, or the floor space being used for a basketball game or for yoga classes.
One could say the old-style village church hall also had this ‘performance’ function. However, today’s modern purpose-built church is more like the ancient cathedrals and less like the chapel model in that it also houses a variety of other rooms and offices in a large complex.
You would find an administration section with conventional offices, plus a variety of different sizes of meeting rooms and board-room style areas that can be used for any purpose from a play-group to a quilting session; from a chess club to a youth bible study; from band practice (gospel of course!) to private prayer or contemplation; from aerobics to a counselling session with a trained pastor. If the congregation is large and their finances viable, then this facility may also encompass some sporting courts or fields, either indoor or outdoor.
Many such churches are also associated with a school, in which case the large worship space can double as the school assembly hall; and the school library and sports fields can be utilised by the whole congregation.
The medieval monastery and European cathedrals
Also harking back to the underlying philosophy of the medieval monasteries and the European cathedrals, in these congregations “church” is not a Sunday event, but rather an every-day-of-the-week ministry. Moreover, the church with both its spiritual and physical facilities is not aimed specifically to the church community, but also to the general public in the local suburbs.
However, Mark Tronson was pondering some questions relating to this type of investment by individual congregations, as in his local area of Tweed Heads and the southern Gold Coast, a number of different types of congregations are moving towards this style of facility.
He came across a Sydney Morning Herald article in which Mark Armstrong advised weighing up the options of renting or buying, up-sizing or down-sizing. Tronson considered that some of ideas presented might well equate to congregations considering these same matters.
Mark Armstrong began his article with this comment: “There are times when you reach a crossroads in life - and property is often centre-stage”. Mark Tronson reflected on how that statement applied equally to a congregation considering making their big move from the school hall to their own purpose-built dream building.
Armstrong urges his readers to consider their financial security, and this is a question that Mark Tronson thinks a congregation needs to ask of itself before making any outrageous financial commitment.
Your first property is more than likely the most important one you'll ever purchase. Armstrong points out that it's often far better to buy a smaller property in a high capital growth area, than a larger property in a lower capital growth area.
I relate this to a church, too. I knows of many churches that have closed, perhaps because this long-term thinking was not a consideration. Whereas others that grew may have recognised that they could only afford X amount now, and then may well be able to expand at a later date.
The article on housing then goes on to discuss another cross-roads - the ‘empty nest’ when the children have grown up and the elderly couple needs to downsize - and it lists a number of things to consider when this happens.
“This is precisely what has happened to many suburban churches in inner city areas where the children of congregation members have grown up and flown the coop,” muses Mark Tronson. He has seen vast areas of the sanctuary that are appallingly (and expensively) empty.
In the same way that potential home owners need to review strategies about the best investment for the funds available and the lifestyle (or needs of the congregation), local congregations likewise need to get some pertinent expert advice as to their possibilities into the future.
An interesting observation that Mark Tronson has noted, that in the suburbs, Pentecostal congregations tend to go for large office or industrial space rather than purchasing an old denominational church structure and land, which may be subject to many Council planning restrictions.
Planning well ahead and reviewing various different types of options, therefore, seems to be the sensible way to go.
Dr Mark Tronson - a 4 min video
Chairman – Well-Being Australia
Baptist Minister 44 years
- 1984 - Australian cricket team chaplain 17 years (Ret)
- 2001 - Life After Cricket (18 years Ret)
- 2009 - Olympic Ministry Medal – presented by Carl Lewis
- 2019 - The Gutenberg - (ARPA Christian Media premier award)
Gutenberg video - 2min 14sec
Married to Delma for 44 years with 4 children and 5 grand children