There has been a healthy move away from the importance of buildings in ministry over the last few decades. Lots of churches have been planted and establishedthat meet in schools, libraries, community halls and other shared spaces. And that has been tremendously beneficial, it has freed up money for gospel ministry rather than tying it up in bricks and mortar and maintenance. It has enabled church planting to be far nimbler and more rapid than if we were buying buildings for every plant. I’m convinced that much of that planting wouldn’t have happened had it not been for that change of mindset.
But I wonder whether now is the time to reconsider that. Britain is undoubtedly becoming more hostile to Christianity, less accepting on it’s views. And I worry that may lead to the loss of community spaces and schools as venues which are available for churches to hire. We are not there yet. But I’m not sure we are far off. What would happen if every church planted in a school, or community space lost the use of their venue in the next 6 months?
We are very fortunate to have a great relationship with the school where we meet. We have a good partnership with them, which we hope is mutually beneficial, we don’t just want to be a tenant but a partner. And so we partner in a number of ways, helping serve one another and collaborating on things where we can. But interestingly even here we’re beginning to feel the pressure of recent trends and changes. We’ve been asked in the assemblies we run not to teach on marriage in case it offends anyone, while we’re still allowed to teach the gospel. And that’s the thin end of the wedge of what is coming that reveals where the battle may well be fought. There is a very real battle being fought in schools and communities over sexuality and gender identity ideology, and society perceives churches that hold to the Bible’s truth to be on the wrong side of that battle.
The question is what will that mean for our renting of community spaces? We’ve already seen some Christian student groups lose the right to meet in Student Union venues because of issues like these. How long until that seeps out of academia and into school and community letting agreements. How along until we’re asked what we will teach on those very issues before a letting is agreed? How long until a live streamed service is watched and a parent or partner offended who then contacts the school to protest that by hiring it’s premises to such a group it is supporting groups who undermine what it teaches about sexuality or gender?
Looking at the future of the Church in the UK it would seem wise for us to begin to formulate strategies that will enable churches to have their own buildings again. To look for new spaces for the medium term; to look for churches that are closing their doors, or community venues that will close, or to look for plots of land and start raising the finance now to make purchasing those possible.
Our strategy has been good, our thinking has been right; the church is people not buildings. But in a society where Christianity is increasingly the bad guy we have to realise that we can’t expect the use of community facilities forever. We need to rethink our planting and establishing of planted churches. We need to recognise that growing the kingdom may well mean we have to change the way we think about buildings because we cannot be silent if the gospel is to be heard.