The building is not the church. The church is the people who meet in a particular place as. Theologically, we know that “the church” is really an identified community of faith who meet in a particular location. But by common understanding, that meeting house is a building that represents the church. In a sense, the church building is an integral part of the congregation. It is the first thing the visitor sees, and the visitor will usually have a number of first impressions before they see very many people in the congregation.

In many parts of the world, the religious facilities are clearly identifiable. In central Europe, a quick look across the valley will show two spires rising above the single-story cottages, one with a cross and the other with a rooster, meaning the Catholic and the Protestant churches. In the southern Europe, the recognizable symbol is a tower next to a 3-story building, the bell tower of the parish church. (The most notable are the one that leans in Pisa and the one in San Marco’s Square in Venice, Italy.)

In the USA, churches built before 1970 are usually peaked-roof auditoriums with blocky classroom buildings, many looking like the illustration on the cover. Some are minimalist white buildings with wooden benches. Others have stained glass & some have padded pews. Most have a steeple with a cross on top.

The larger modern church buildings resemble concert halls or convention centers. Some meet in store fronts, in homes – even in emptied garages. In one undisclosed location in the Middle East, we worshipped in a racquetball court. (The host nation guards wondered what kind of “meeting” those Americans were having on the weekend.)

Some congregation will rent the space in schools, hotel meeting rooms or apartment complex club houses. One church is best known for its moving truck that holds the chairs and staging equipment for moving in and out every week. Other another rents the sports arena once a month for all of the home groups to convene in corporate worship.

For convenience, churches in Western cultures tend to own buildings. And those facilities have costs associated with them. Heating and cooling bills, lights, plumbing and repairs. Some are built with available materials and some with large mortgages. And every one needs to be maintained. The quantity and quality of maintenance is what makes the first impression, and often will determine if the visitor comes back, or even stops in the first time.

Start with the parking lot and the landscaping. (more…)