Last month the ministry where I’m blessed to serve opened our fourth Community Center. Churches all across the country are building new buildings, and I’m often asked to provide input on technology needs. One of the first questions I ask is, “Who are we building for?”
That may seem like an odd question but stick with me. For centuries, churches have built buildings for church. Their purpose and design focused on what happens on Sunday morning. Beautiful cathedrals and large worship centers are everywhere, but their purpose is highly specific: Sunday morning. What if the church built something for the other days of the week?
In many ways, the model has changed. I believe churches should stop building churches and start building community centers. We have done so three times and the impact has been tremendous. Here is our story.
In 2005, Faith Church in Lafayette, IN was planning to build a “big box auditorium.” We had outgrown our existing worship space and were trying to figure out what to do next. Not only did we need a larger auditorium, but we also needed more lobby and transition spaces. At the time, the plans came back at $10 million dollars for a room we would struggle to use more than 8 hours a week.
As we moved towards this plan one of the guys on our leadership team asked what else we might spend $10 million on if we didn’t build an auditorium for ourselves. It was a shocking question, and one we were not prepared to answer! So we pressed the pause button and asked, what could we do with the money instead?
The short story is we asked our neighbors and community. What would they like to see us build? How could we serve them? How could we serve our community? How could we serve those in need? We surveyed not only the homes near our first campus but our entire town. The survey was available online and in our local paper. We collected thousands of data points and compiled them into a list of needs we might be able to meet.
From the list of needs, we conducted input sessions with our neighbors to find out our neighbors’ thoughts. This information turned into a programming statement, which turned into a layout, which turned into our first Community Center. It was built around the needs of our community and then we put a church in it on Sundays. It has several gyms, a youth room, a fitness center, a pool, public meeting rooms, and a preschool.
Using available technology, we were able to creatively address our attendance and growth issues while still providing a facility to serve our community all week long. Let’s face it: church can be held anywhere. Churches today meet in schools, strip malls, and just about anywhere there are four walls and a roof. A community center is [a] perfect place for a church. The gyms are used for worship space, the youth room is used for youth group, the meeting rooms are used for small groups or Sunday school or adult Bible fellowships, and the preschool is used for children’s ministries and the nursery.
This screamed a message to our community. Instead of building a church for us and inviting to them to use what we built for us, we built the building for the community and then we use it on Sundays. Think about it, Sunday morning is about 6-8 hours. That leaves over 160 other hours in the week. I’ve got nothing against worship centers with sloped floors and theater seating or auditoriums with fixed pews but it is hard to use those expensive spaces 160 hours a week.
After we built our first Community Center at our main campus, we were able to repeat the process three more times. After gathering community input and facilitating various input session we have a Community Center near Purdue University, one in downtown Lafayette, and one opening this month on the north side of Lafayette.
In many ways, I look at Faith Ministries as an inverse megachurch. We reach more people through our community ministries Monday through Saturday than we could ever reach in a worship service on Sunday. (Again, I’ve got nothing against church on Sunday, I believe God ordained church on Sunday but I don’t believe He said church in a church building, on Sunday, only for the church, and that’s it.)
Technology has played a large part in these Community Centers. Tech allows us to use a gym as a worship space and flip it into a banquet space or use it for a blood drive or an emergency disaster shelter all with ease. (Oh, by the way, I’m told you can also play sports using various projectiles in a gym too.) Technology provides ministry opportunities through presentation spaces, guest Wi-Fi, and children’s security.
My encouragement to you is to stop and think about your next building project. I’m not saying everyone should build community centers. Instead of building churches though, look at it the other way. Build for your community and then have your church in it. Don’t build for your church and then have the community in it. Trust me, the community knows the difference. Build for 168 hours a week, not 8. A radical idea? Or an incredible way to impact the community where you live for the Kingdom.