Who Needs Bricks And Mortar?

Although we know that the true definition of “church” is a community of people—a body of believers—most of us use the word to indicate a specific building. For hundreds of years, “church,” as a building, has conjured up a fairly universal image; not anymore.

A National Congregation Study completed in 2012 shows that 10 percent of congregations meet in a non-traditional setting. Using the 2010 U.S. Religion Census estimated total of 350,00 congregations, then, approximately 35,000 congregations meet somewhere other than a typical church venue.

What’s New?

The architecture of new church builds is often radically different than they were even twenty years ago. Some new brick-and-mortar churches include nothing on the exterior of the building to even indicate that the structure is, indeed, a church. And when it comes to new church plants, who needs bricks and mortar anyway?

In the past, new or planted churches most often made arrangements to meet in a school. They have parking lots, large rooms in which to meet and no one is using the buildings on Sunday mornings. In more recent years, schools are rarely an option anymore; the legal issue of religion in schools has required many churches to find new facilities.

In addition to changing trends in church architecture and signage, church doctrines are also changing, to reflect members’ growing concern for and responsibility to this world that God made for us. Church plants and new church start-ups are finding creative ways to use existing buildings instead of building from the ground up—which is not only good environmental stewardship, it saves money, too.

Where To?

When New Day Church (Springfield, Massachusetts) was formed in 2007, they never dreamed where they would eventually meet for church worship services. Originally, they met in a community house and later they held church in a hotel, but by 2009, their congregation had grown from eight congregants to six hundred in attendance; today, they hold three services a week in the Basketball Hall of Fame!

Lifechurch Macungie (Macungi, Pennsylvania) also began in 2007. Initially, services were held in a school and later, they shared space with another church. Their real estate break came in 2013 when they bought the former Roller Motion Skating Rink. Remodeling took two years; the church held its first service in their new facility on Easter of this year.

Paradise Outfitters Ministries (Oak Grove, Missouri) began about seven years ago as a home Bible study. When their pastor leased a vacant grocery store and converted half of it into a place for worship, the camp chairs, picnic tables, and taxidermy transformed their chancel area into an old, front porch; this unusual setting made a comfortable spot for sportsmen and women who would never attend a traditional church. And the other half of the store? It’s now a free, indoor archery range. Just put your donation into the minnow bucket.

Why Not?

If you’re thinking of building a new facility or planting a new church, maybe you don’t have to start from the ground up. Try thinking outside the bricks and mortar to find the perfect, existing worship space while honoring your commitment to be more environmentally friendly at the same time.

New Digs in Old Building

Like many businesses across the country—indeed, throughout the world—United Methodist Publishing learned that it’s more environmentally efficient to reuse an existing building instead of constructing a new one. In fact, the actual process of construction negatively impacts climate change . . . something that’s not widely known by the general public.

A 2012 study by The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Green Lab finds that even if the new building is energy efficient, the negative environmental affects of construction outweigh the positive gains. The report states that “it can take 10 to 80 years for a new energy efficient building to compensate, through efficient operations, for the climate change impacts created by its construction.” The study offers this startling example:

“In Portland, Oregon retrofitting just one percent of the city’s office buildings and single family homes that would otherwise be demolished and rebuilt over the next ten years would help to meet 15 percent of the entire county’s total CO2 reduction targets.”

So when it came time for United Methodist Publishing House to relocate its Cokesbury and Abingdon Press divisions’ headquarters, they decided to refurbish an existing facility instead of building from scratch. Their new home, still located in Nashville, Tennessee, is part of a complex that once contained retail shops, a multi-screen movie theatre and restaurants. With its park-like surroundings and man-made lake, the area had been a popular place, but it never took off as expected. The complex lost most of its tenants and deteriorated greatly.

The building is perfect, however, for Cokesbury and Abingdon Press and their almost 500-person staff. Refurbishing the new headquarters has taken about a year, but this month, employees begin the process of moving, and all departments will have transferred operations to their new digs by June 15.

Rare Book Relocation

United Methodist Publishing’s move brought attention recently to Cokesbury’s collection of ancient books, some of which date back to the 1600s and earlier. While the contents of a cubicle drawer can be tossed about, these priceless books are getting the white glove treatment . . . literally. Read more here