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New Churches

Starting Up? Starting over?

Or, stepping up and stepping out with a different idea...

Building Free

Pr. Moe Redding, Light of Christ LC, Chandler, AZ

God does not need buildings. Since His Church is made of living stones, you could never get a certificate of occupancy from the local zoning board anyway! The most dynamic revival happening in the world today is happening in places like China, where brothers and sisters in Christ meet in house churches to worship and praise God. Contrast this with places like England and America where buildings that used to be places of worship are now becoming museums. Some have actually become nightclubs.

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A modern church building may be nice but...necessary?

God does not need buildings, and neither does His body on earth, the church. We only need the Holy Spirit.

We have not had a traditional church building since we began worship in September of 1996. A huge part of our focus at the beginning was when we would build our church, not realizing God was doing some construction of His own all the while. To make a very long story short, the building costs for our community are so out of reach that we would have to do another 2 building drives to begin to approach the amount of money needed to build. To date we have done 4 different building drives. The monthly mortgage, were we to build, would be approximately $30,000. Imagine the stress that would put on a congregation. And for what … to have a building to call our own? But if the church actually belongs to God, perhaps we should open our minds to consider other options the Lord might have for us.

Think about it: One of the most common criticisms of the Christian Church in America is that congregations just want your money. As a pastor I used to self-righteously dismiss this as simply an excuse people use to not attend worship. Perhaps that is true in some cases. However, maybe they’re seeing something we’re not.

Question: What happens when a congregation gets into huge debt? I believe the dynamic is similar to a family in huge debt … money concerns begin to dominate everything, lots of times in ways we don’t even see. We talk about money, pray about money, look for ways to make more money, and live under what can be immense financial stress. This absolutely happens in congregations.

People are not stupid. They can sense it. I believe they know when they’re being loved. They also know when churches undergo big evangelism drives … simply to pay the bills! We’re not motivated by love. We’re motivated by financial stress. We want them for their money! We are guilty as charged.

God has done a mighty work of refining in us over these 14 years, starting with the pastor …. Me! From the very beginning I have had a faithful group of brothers and sisters in Christ who have told me from time to time, “Pastor, we don’t need a building.” I was so locked in to believing we had to have a building, mostly to grow a church to meet my ego needs that I lovingly listened but arrogantly disregarded. I would even judge these beautiful brothers and sisters by thinking they did not want to grow the church. I believed they just wanted to remain a small congregation and that’s why they didn’t want to build. The only problem was they never said that and they certainly didn’t live that! They all have an incredible heart for the lost. They love being used by God to reach out to hurting people. All they said was, “Moe, we don’t need a building.”

It took me years to understand what they were absolutely 100% correct. As a matter of fact, I now believe that a building can actually be a hindrance to what God wants to do. I believe this because so many pastors I know who have buildings are now telling me they believe it to be true. Before we get to some of the wonderful, exciting things God is doing without buildings, let’s consider some of the hindrances of having buildings we call churches.

photo man worrying over money matters

Where can we find more money!!??

  • People equate “church” with a building. The church is the body of Christ.
  • Ownership conflicts arise. We use terms like “my” and “our” to describe a church. In the sense that we belong to a particular community of faith that is great. In the sense that we own or control a building, we must repent of this. Jesus owns the church, building or not. He bought it with His blood.
  • Immense financial resources are consumed in the building, maintenance, upkeep and repair of buildings.
  • Incredible resources of time are consumed as well. The time issue may be immeasurable! Consider all the time that is eaten up by property issues. Think about all the committee meetings dealing with Sunday School rooms, carpet, painting, room usage contracts, repairing heating and cooling units, etc… This leads to …
  • Confusion of purpose. What are we supposed to be doing as followers of Jesus? We are called to love God and love people to God.
  • Worldly measures of success. How many congregations have literally spent millions of dollars on buildings and yet still are not reaching more people with the Gospel of Jesus? Or, in order to keep reaching people to pay the bills, congregational leaders have stopped teaching the Cross of Christ (deny self, take up your cross daily, and follow him) and instead preach the prosperity message, which is simply baptizing materialism?
  • Financial and material issues relating to a building can easily change the way we view people, as mentioned above. It happens slowly and perhaps unintentionally, but wanting people for their money is a reality in many congregations. Ironically, this “hidden” agenda causes us to …
  • Avoid teaching Biblical, financial principles! Tithing is the starting point in God’s financial plan, not a new roof for the sanctuary. We give the first 10% to our Lord out of love, faith and obedience to our Heavenly Father because where our treasure is there our heart will be also. God doesn’t want our money. He wants our heart! It’s just that the more we give to God and His purposes the more of us He gets! We give because God loves a cheerful giver. We give as a sacrifice of praise. We plead with God for opportunities to give to His work in the world, just like the Macedonian churches did in 2 Corinthians 8. We give because we love, not because we’re stressed. Financial stress in congregations actually hinders a pastor from loving people enough to preach biblical financial principles with authority for their benefit.
  • Although congregations would love to give for missions, feeding hungry people, training pastors, etc… often there is little if anything left over after all the bills are paid. The problem is that mission is the most joyful use of money. Many congregations are only scratching the surface of the joy God has for them.

These are a few potential hindrances for faith communities with buildings. I am sure many congregations have been able to negotiate these and remain faithful to God’s calling. However, if we can fulfill God’s calling without having to build, you will save huge amounts of time, energy and frustration.

Great Blessings of the Past 14 Years:

Maturation Process

If God is going to really use you He has to refine you. The refining process is no fun. There are no shortcuts. Ultimately we are called to die to ourselves daily, and be brought to resurrected living through the power of the Holy Spirit. One of the things I had to die to was that this congregation is the Lord’s, not mine. God gets ALL the glory. All of it. Every last ounce of it.

Why am I still at LOC after 14 years and no building? Here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

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I'm outta here!

About 10 years ago I was completely burned out and ready to leave the ministry because my ego needs were not being met. We had not built when I wanted us to build. We were in a fast-growth area and I knew the first congregations in the ground would get the most people. To a large degree this turned out to be true. The three congregations closest to us that built are now averaging 5,000, 3,000 and 1,000 people a Sunday. We had run into tons of obstacles that the others did not. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, had lots of excuses to share with anyone who would listen, and was ready to leave the ministry.

I decided to tell my wife what I was thinking. I said, “Honey, I’m thinking about leaving the ministry and entering medical school. I think the reason I’m not happy is that I have missed my calling.” In the back of my mind I was thinking, “Look, if I’m going to be miserable I might as well be rich and miserable … all things being equal!”

My beautiful wife was quiet for about 5 seconds, looked me right in the eyes and said the words that God used to change my life forever. She simply said, “Moe, I don’t know if you’ll ever be happy.”

What kind of a thing is that for a wife to say!! Here I am, as low as I’ve been in a long time, and it’s like she’s kicking me when I’m down! The reality is her loving, honest opinion stopped me from making the biggest mistake of my entire life! Notice, she did not threaten to divorce me. She did not tell me she and the kids were leaving until I got my act together. She simply said, “I don’t know if you’ll ever be happy.”

As I began processing what she said to me it became clear that she believed my issue had nothing to do with my circumstances. It was a matter of the heart. She was right. I realized that I was either going to let the Lord deal with my heart issues, since it is his specialty, or I would need to get used to being unhappy, miserable and frustrated. That night I got on my knees and called out to God.

I told the Lord that something had happened to me. I knew I did not love Him like I used to. I no longer loved people like I used to love them. I was no longer passionate about bringing the lost to the Lord. I said to the Lord, “Lord Jesus, you either have to show me how to come back to you or you have to get me out of the pulpit, because I can no longer tell people about something that is a distant memory to me.” I realized that being an actor (hypocrite) on Sundays was hurting people. They needed a preacher who was walking what he was talking!

The words formed in my mind almost immediately. It was a yes or no question: “Are you going to give me back my church?” I almost jumped out of my skin as I said, “Yes, Lord! It’s yours! All of it. Forever. Make this church whatever you want it to be. It is yours. I work for you.”

That was the beginning. I had given my life to God, but never the church! Here is what has happened in my life as pastor since I gave God back His church (as though I ever owned it in the first place!):

Who cares about a building?

Honestly, who cares? Once God has your heart you do not need anything else! Tell people this glorious truth! Gather a group around you who only want Jesus! God will build a congregation of missionaries! If He wants you to have a building He’ll make it clear to you. But it will be about Him, not you.

The control freak has left the building

Since it’s God’s church, I don’t need to micromanage anything. I now go to two meetings a month: Staff and Board. I meet individually with team leaders as they need. Now that I am no longer trying to control everything I am set free to do what God’s gifted me to do! I love bible studies, worship services, helping men become the spiritual leaders of their families, and encouraging pastors. I have never had more passion and joy for ministry! Thank you, Lord!

Best Leaders anyone could hope for

Healthy, strong followers of Jesus will not be micromanaged by a pastor. Jesus himself sent the disciples out in pairs. And that’s Jesus! If our Lord trusted his disciples enough to set them free into their ministries, we must do the same. If not, your best leaders will leave and your needy leaders will stay. You will then get to go to 7-8 meetings every week, neglect your family, have the phone ring at all times of the day and night, and probably burn out, all while getting next to nothing accomplished.

The pastor needs to always keep an eye out for strong, faithful leaders. They do not lead for money. They lead out of love. Once you see their heart and passion help them grow into leaders. Be patient. God will let you know when they’re ready. Once they’re ready, make them a team leader and release them to lead! Teach them to get a strong team together and to pray. The Holy Spirit is leading God’s church, not the pastor. The Holy Spirit will show up at your meetings, not the pastor. The Holy Spirit knows God’s plan, not the pastor.

When leaders see you love them and trust them enough to set them free to do ministry, their commitment level goes through the roof. I even tell our leaders to not worry about failing, because if we’re not failing from time to time we’re playing it too safe. Failure is not fatal. It helps us learn.

Question Every Assumption

I believe God is doing a radical, new thing in the church in America, and it’s not to lead people away from the Bible! I believe we are to question every assumption with one word: “Why?” We need to build. “Why?” So people will come. “But that’s not how the early church got followers of Jesus. How did they do it?”

In order to do ministry, we need a building. “Why?” What about things like Sunday worship, midweek ministries, preschool ministries, office space, bible studies, and alpha? Certainly we need a building. “Okay, but there are plenty of buildings around. Maybe God will open up some doors for us to use one or more of them!”

We just had our annual leadership retreat. Generally we set a few goals for the upcoming year. This year, I asked the question to myself, “Why?” Honestly. Why set goals? The answer is that it gives us direction for the upcoming year. Okay, but if we are followers of Jesus how can we possibly know what His will is over the next year?? 2000 years ago it seemed he surprised his disciples on a minute-by-minute basis! How can we possibly know what his 1-3-5 year plan is for his congregation, Light of Christ?? Instead of setting any goals for the upcoming year, we just celebrated all that God has done in our lives and in the congregation. We encouraged each other to stay close to the Lord through prayer and bible reading, and for everyone to get ready for what He has next!

Mission Focused

Since none of our focus is on a building, we can focus like a laser on mission. For example, we had 3 different missionaries come to our church in a 6 week period this last summer. One was a missionary who came out of the Mormon Church, and is now reaching out to them with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Another is a missionary in Uganda who preached about the need for godly men in America. Another is a missionary who used to be a jihadist in Pakistan, and is now telling people about the love and salvation of Jesus Christ.

We have quarterly giving opportunities to support different ministries around the world. We have sent over 500 bibles to the underground church in China. We have an outreach to a homeless shelter where we bring people to worship the Lord with us on Sunday mornings. We have a worship service at a nursing home. We have a bible study in a retirement village. God has given us the opportunity to send food to starving families around the world. We have people who haven’t even joined the church yet heading up a food ministry for hungry people. God gets all the glory!

God is so good, and when He sees a congregation that wants to serve, don’t be amazed at the opportunities that just show up at your doorstep.

Miraculous Provisions

When we thought we were supposed to build, we spent about $230,000 on architectural designs for our master plan. The ultimate goal was to build a worship facility that would have a large stage for our band and comfortable stadium seating for around 650 people. The problem was the cost: $16 million give or take a few million. Fast forward to 6 months ago. The school district called and told us that one of their high school auditoriums was becoming available and they wanted to know if we would be interested in moving there for Sunday morning worship. We said we would love to come take a look. Guess what? Huge stage, comfortable seating for 650 people, all the classrooms you would ever need for Sunday school, and all of it for only $2500/month. Compare that with building a comparable structure for $16 million (not to mention ongoing repairs, upkeep, utilities, etc…)!

God’s plan is always much better than our plan!

God provided an office space for us. It is actually 3 trailers zipped together with a stucco covering. Looks permanent, but it’s all on jacks. If we ever sell this property we can take our building with us! We have 3000 sq. ft. of space for offices and midweek ministries all for less than $100,000.

We have a full preschool. It began with a leader who wanted to start a preschool. We came along side and sponsored it out of her home. Now we rent from another congregation (many congregations need financial help and may be very open to housing a preschool). The relationship is wonderful and our rent is $600/month. We now have two classes each on.

We actually began a thrift store in the area with other congregations, though our congregation seeded the start with almost $50,000. Now it is up and going, is paying back our loan, and eventually should be a financial stream of $1,000 - $2,000/month for ministry back to our congregation.

We have completely paid off our property, but have no idea what God’s plans are for it. We could sell it and move to a retail space. We have no idea what God has next for us … and it’s wonderful! I do not believe I could ever go back to “doing church” the way I was trained.

Again, stay patient and in prayer. God will reveal His plans for you in His time. Just know this: God does not need buildings.

Financial Goals for the Upcoming Year

One of the huge blessings of not having a building is how it has transformed our financial goals. We give 15% of unrestricted giving to benevolence. With special giving opportunities that increases to about 25%.

Here are the three goals for 2011:

  1. Increased giving to cover 2010 ministry goals. Right now our giving is at 90% of the ministry goals;
  2. Increased giving to cover the $2500/month rent at the high school. Currently this is paid from savings.
  3. All other financial increases will be given away to God’s work throughout the world. We would love to get to 50%, 60%, 70%, even 80% of all giving goes to God’s larger work beyond Light of Christ!

God does not need buildings.

Here is one of my favorite quotes: “The opposite of bravery is not cowardice, but conformity.” — Robert Anthony

May God fill you with His love, faith and hope. His perfect love casts out fear. He is calling people to think in ways we have not seen before. It may very well be the Lord is calling you to become a leader like they had in the 1st century church. Praise be to God, and follow Him.

In His Amazing Grace,

Moe Redding, pastor

Pastor, Light of Christ