Will big church buildings become dinosaurs?

cathedralThe future of the church, specifically churches of Christ, has been a popular topic recently. I guess it’s always a popular topic, but articles detailing different aspects of our present and future realities seem to come in spurts. A lot is being said these days about what is happening with younger generations and what will become of the church.

I’ve been talking with a number of people about the future of church buildings. I’m optimistic about the future of the church; less so when it comes to buildings.

Back in January, Thom Rainer wrote a piece called The Death of the Mall and the Future of Church Buildings. It echoed a lot of the things that I’m seeing and hearing.

Rainer referred to an article about the decline of shopping malls and forecasts of what is to come for them. Rainer then said:

The Boomer generation has been the generation of bigness and sprawl. Their parents, in the aftermath of World War II, moved numbers of them to the new and massive suburbia. Large malls would soon follow. Most large megachurch buildings were constructed primarily for the favor of the Boomers.
But the children of the Boomers, Generation X and, even more, the Millennials, have been pushing for more intimacy and smallness. They triggered the unprecedented growth of Starbucks. They have been the key movers in social media, which has fostered a new online intimacy.
Among the Christian Millennials there is a desire for greater intimacy in church. They are in many ways triggering a new small group revolution. And though they may not have an explicit aversion to large church facilities, neither are they attracted to them.

There is a generation that sees big buildings as a plus and small buildings as a hindrance. And there is a generation that sees things just the other way around. Rainer notes:

A Boomer church leader looks at a small building and limited acreage and sees challenges. He sees the limitations of size and space. A Millennial leader looks at the same building and acreage and sees opportunity. He immediately thinks multiple venues, multiple services, and multiple days.

And he ends his article with a line that I hadn’t heard before: “After all, only college football stadiums are utilized less than church facilities.”

So what do you think? Are big church buildings destined to become a thing of the past? If so, will that be a bad thing or a good thing?


photo from MorgueFile.com

3 thoughts on “Will big church buildings become dinosaurs?

  1. David Smith

    Good post, brother. As a boomer answering the title question: I hope so. The Millenials perspective on this gives me great hope. How many billions of dollars have been – and still are – needlessly squandered for the purchase, maintenance, insurance, and security of big church properties? Let’s Christianity take back to where it was first nurtured and thrived, I say: in the intimacy of people’s homes.

  2. Paul Smith

    Tim – timely question as always. I too wonder, although I think there is a reason for “meeting houses” as they never would have evolved if there had not been a good reason for communal gatherings. I do not sweat too much that they sit idle for a long period of time – so does my bathroom but I sure am glad it is there when I need it/want it.

    On a semi-unrelated note, the phrase “online intimacy” has got to rate in the top three oxymorons of all time, if not taking the top spot. “Online intimacy?” Really? You can be intimate with someone online? With photo shopped pictures and fake identities and all kinds of other distortions and obfuscations? I’m glad I had swallowed my coffee when I read that phrase or I would have had to buy a new laptop. (On second thought, maybe a new laptop would not be such a bad idea.)

    Anyway – blessings on your El Presidente Day.


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