I don’t like church buildings. A good number of church buildings sit vacant during the work week except for office use and the occasional Bible study meeting. We spend millions on church buildings that are just for church people. This doesn’t seem to be a good use of hard earned money from the congregation. My dream for a church is a network of house churches bringing grace, justice and beauty back into our communities. You don’t really need a building to do this.
So when our church began the discussion of building a second campus, I was skeptical. I didn’t want to be embarrassed working for a church that spent millions on making church people feel comfortable.
For the last few years First Presbyterian Church in Champaign has been operating as a two campus church. We have a campus downtown at the original church building and our second campus meets in southwest Champaign at a school. Each campus has a specific style of ministry that goes beyond just worship style. Interestingly these campuses even draw different types of parents. Each campus is intergenerational and committed to mission in the surrounding neighborhoods.
As we do ministry at our southwest campus we have realized that there are limitations to meeting at a school. It is hard to have other programming for the community during the week when we don’t have access to the building. There are also perception issues both inside and outside the church as to the long term commitment of the church when there isn’t a building. We want to plant ourselves in our southwest Champaign neighborhood and lay down roots.
For the past two months I was a part of a task force that looked into possible long term options for our second campus. We looked at renting other commercial space, synergizing with other organizations, continuing to meet at the school and building a new building. We came to the conclusion that the best option was to build on land that we owned next to the school.
So now the question for our brainstorming group is what to build. Before we decide what type of building we must first ask the question, “What are the mission objectives that we want to accomplish in the building?” This will drive what we end up building. The last thing this area needs is another “church building.” There are five other churches right around the corner from our property. We don’t want a building that sits vacant during the week or is full of church people. I have always believed that church people need to get out of the church building and the church building needs to be full of people from the community. But how do we do this?
Dan Kimball, pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, writes about his early opinions against church buildings in this insightful article. After experiencing what happened in his church’s building he concludes that church buildings can be “mission outposts” in communities. They can be places where the community comes for support, encouragement and a place to hangout. A third place for people to get connected.
This journey to figure out what a mission outpost might look like in southwest Champaign excites me. I love projects that are inconceivable and impossible unless God is the one guiding and directing it. I’m along for the ride!