I'm in and out of giant church buildings on a fairly regular basis.
Not long ago I walked from one end of such a building to the other. It was quite a trek! This particular "campus" is enormous. No doubt the structure cost several hundred million dollars.
That's a long way from the "upper room."
The architecture was beautiful. The construction excellent. The looks of everything betrayed the continual presence of a hard-working, full-time staff devoted to tending to the property. It was an amazing operation, to say the least.
Church buildings much like this one cover the landscape of the nation. Not all turn out as grand, but still church real estate holdings boggle the imagination in terms of scale and investment costs.
This is not intended as a tired, diatribe against church buildings, I promise. While serving churches in New Orleans and Richardson, Texas, I oversaw building renovations and new construction, the cost of which ran in the millions of dollars.
It is, rather, a reflection, a "what if" of sorts on the nature of faith communities in general at the beginning of the 21st century.
People often post here about how the church should be the front-line and primary responder to the needs of poor people in the United States and around the world. As I've said before, the economics just don't add up on that vision. Too much of the church's resources and wealth goes to facilities and professional staff for anything approaching that to be possible.
But, what if things changed for churches and denominations?
What if a life of faith meant less organization, less institutional support and structure and more individual action and small group engagement? What if people of faith got together in homes, in small groups instead of in buildings designed mainly for larger groups and gatherings only a few times a week?
I wonder what might happen if just a few churches that owned large real estate holdings sold out? Literally sold their property, banked the funds, organized more organically and then developed new and effective strategies for pursuing lives of faith that involved new kinds of contact with the community around them--how would that look?
What would it take to do that? What would it mean? What would be the potential impact? What would be lost? What gained? What major obstacles and objections would such congregations face?
This notion has been in my head for years. The idea that a network of smaller cell groups could blanket a city, nurture the faith of members, commit to serve those around them and work for a more just and equitable community. . .it may not be easy or even practical, given our long experience and our typical expectations, but I can't help but think the impact could be enormous.
I do know one thing. The income from the sale of just one building like I walked through not long ago, placed in the hands of capable leaders and community developers, would go a long way toward leveraging the start of the renewal of an entire inner city neighborhood that sits in ruin today.
From house-to-house for the sake of the cities.
Might sound really "out there," but, as I say, it's not a notion I can shake very easily.
Go ahead, call me Alice, as in Wonderland.