Two years after we became Christians and joined our first church, the pastor announced that while our new facility was being built, we’d be renting a nearby high school. For the next 13 months, this school was the place where we attended church. And the whole time, there was this sense of anxiety in the congregation as people wrestled with what it meant to be a church without a building of its own (if even only for a year). Some described us as homeless, while others—including the pastoral staff, to their credit—were trying to help people see the church as the people, rather than the building we met in.
The church moved into its new facility, and a couple of months later, Emily and I left (a story for another time). Soon after, we joined the congregation we’ve been worshipping with since mid-2009.
This church has had a different sort of history with facilities. Where our first had owned a building for decades, our new one had only experienced life as “renters.” Every single week, we would put on “church in a box.” Faithful volunteers would come out to set up, tear down, and make it look like we were never there in the first place while all the material stuff of “church” was locked away in a storage room. When we joined, we were on the church’s second location,1 a high school on the northwest side of London. About two months after we joined, the announcement came that we were moving up the street about a mile in order to allow more space for the people who’d started attending. And so, we found ourselves back at the same high school we’d left a few months prior.
And there we stayed for the next six years.
Until this weekend.
September 6, 2015, marked our congregation’s first worship gathering in a facility we own. While it’s hard to say what we’re all going to feel like in a few weeks, the experience of this first Sunday got me thinking. Here are a few off-the-cuff reflections:
It’s nice to see one season end and another begin.
For almost as long as we’ve been a part of our church, facilities have been a challenge. At one point it looked like we were going to build a brand new facility on the edge of town, but God in his providence deemed otherwise. Instead, after much prayer and patience, weeks of negotiations, months of waiting and a couple of weeks renovating, we’ve purchased an existing church building—the one the original core group was commissioned out of, in fact!
And because of it, there’s a sense of relief in the air. One season is done and now we’re ready to move into the next one. Though from the congregation’s perspective, little is different aside from the location, there is a sense of excitement that there hasn’t been in a while. We’re praying for big things in a neighborhood and a city that desperately needs every church to witness faithfully. It’s going to be interesting to see how we respond to the task at hand.
It’s going to present new challenges (in a good way).
Throughout this process, our elders have repeatedly reminded the congregation that we’re trading one set of problems for another. We’ve got to figure out how to do life together in this new location. The congregation needs to figure out how to relate to one another now that there isn’t the rush to put everything away as quickly as possible. The relationships that were formed in that context will change—and it’s going to be interesting to see how.
We need to avoid looking back with a false perspective.
Our pastor reminded us of this very fact when he preached on Sunday morning. There’s always a temptation to either look back and think, “gee, wasn’t it great when…” as much as it’s tempting to look back on the past with disdain. Whether we’re talking about life in our church or life in general, we need to be careful about this. We should always be thankful about where we’ve come from, even as we try to be honest about the difficulties that existed. That we were able to preach the Bible faithfully for six years in our previous location, every single Sunday,2 is nothing short of miraculous—especially when everything we preach and teach is at odds with the prevailing social dogma. That we were able to build good relationships with the school’s staff is a gift from God. That during the last six years, we saw the church grow from around 450 to 1400 is unbelievable. Whether a church owns or rents a facility doesn’t really matter. What God chooses to do as Jesus is faithfully proclaimed is what’s important.
That’s something I don’t want to forget.