Once upon a time in a city called Perth (and not so long ago) when a group of people began a church they did so firstly in a home, then maybe a community centre, or a public building of some sort until they decided that they really needed their own building… a proper church building with a foyer, a ‘sanctuary’ and a baptismal pool (if you are so inclined…)
So the people got together, gave gifts, sold assets, mortgaged houses, and by hook or by crook (or by faith… maybe a bit of both…) raised the funds needed to buy land and erect some kind of building – often a small ‘hall’, which served as ‘stage 1’ of any future work. Sometimes stage 1 was all there ever was and that was fine. But stage 1 created equity so that stage 2 could then happen. In those days land was cheaper and developers would often allocate churches space in new suburbs at minimal cost.
That was ‘then’. Those days are gone.
Today we are in a very different cultural and economic space, so the task of church planting and becoming established and rooted in a community becomes a very different consideration. The last 20-30 years has seen the ‘community centre’ church building, the sports centre church building, the commercial venture and the Christian school arise as significant means of establishing churches in the newer suburbs.
What seems to have has largely disappeared (in new church development) is the idea of a community of people pooling their resources, giving generously and/or taking a loan to build a dedicated space.
As I look around the far outer suburbs in Perth I see churches meeting in schools, churches meeting in community centres, but very few meeting in premises they own. It seems only the wealthier, centrally funded denominations (Anglicans/Catholics) have the resources to pull off that kind of thing, or the ‘franchises’ that can use equity in an established building elsewhere as security against a loan in a new development.
My musing comes as I’ve been wandering Yanchep looking for space to gather a bunch of people and its not an easy task. I have had very curt refusals from two schools, making me wonder ‘what happened there?…’ Maybe this is how it is now… There is precious little community space and strict rules around who can use it and when, and there is no larger facility in the suburb itself. Finding a space to gather people is one of the things we need to get sorted, but its proving problematic…
One of the limitations of being a church that currently meets in a school is that we have no asset base of our own if we ever did wish to build something else. (The upside is a fantastic free facility…)
Lately as we have scoured the suburb looking for space I have found myself wondering just what shape church planting will take in these next 20-30 years.
Will we have to wait for a denominational school to set up shop and give us space?
Will we be shunted from public building to public building?
We could decentralise and meet in homes, but my experience of this has been a degree of unavoidable fragmentation.
Maybe we need a new privately owned commercial venture that can double as a meeting space?
Perhaps its time to come full circle and rally the troops to raise funds? But no matter how strong your ‘faith’ the thought of a $2-3 million dollar building project being undertaken by a fledgling group of battling families in the mortgage belt just doesn’t seem like a wise move either. I’m sure this is why no one is doing it. I’m really reluctant to lead any bunch of people on a building project in this day and age, partly because it is such an all consuming thing, but it also moves me from ‘pastor’ to ‘fund raiser’ – a man with mixed motives… Its unavoidable when large sums of money come into play. And costs do tend blow out… just a bit…
So I’m pondering… and praying… wondering what’s next? What shape will our missionary endeavours take in the barren outer suburbs? Those planting in established areas with plenty of community buildings may yet experience the struggle to find space too, but when there’s no space available anywhere the question becomes ‘what now?’
I’m up for creative thinking and exploring new options – maybe there are possibilities we just haven’t seen.
Oddly enough in a recent conversation with a mate we were discussing the value of being a physical presence in the community – being seen – being there – being present. He suggested that a church that meets in a local facility often ‘doesn’t exist’ in the minds of the community, and perhaps even in the minds of the church people themselves.
So there’s that consideration too.
If you live at the fringes of the city where infrastructure is minimal and population is booming then church planting takes on some different questions to days gone by.