Maybe church buildings aren't as big a deal as we thought

March 3rd, 2016

Those of us who have attended church seemingly forever sometimes feel that the church building is the best tool for evangelism. When we’re confronted with (or we finally recognize/accept) declining worship attendance and overall involvement at our lovely church, panic sets in. We need to do something.

And churches usually seem to move toward the path of least resistance. We decide what we think we should do and pour more energy and resources into building maintenance and/or upgrades.

The theory is that an update to the building will bring curious onlookers to the campus.

The building often becomes the focus of evangelism because it’s the easiest thing to change. And almost everyone usually agrees that a church building could benefit from a facelift or two.

It perpetuates the idea of changing without really changing.

It’s the easiest path because all it really requires is throwing money at the problem. I’m not suggesting that it’s easy funding a building project but diagnosing issues with the building is easier than than pointing out problems with the church’s ministries that may have led to the decline in attendance.

Someone once told me, “If you have a problem you can solve by throwing money at it, you don’t have a very interesting problem.”

Just upgrading your campus won’t bring people to church when they have little to no interest in coming to church in the first place.

My wife loves the craft store Michaels. She can spend hours, and I mean hours, at Michaels.

I absolutely despise that store. Even more because I get no cell reception/data there AND they have free wi-fi but it never works.

It motivates me to be a good Christian because I feel that’s what my hell would be like: an eternity in Michaels with no wi-fi. It already feels like eternity when I’m there with my wife.

When we first moved here, I drove by that Michaels dozens of times and never noticed it because I have no interest in that store. I can tell you, however, where the Apple Store, Best Buy and every Starbucks in Santa Barbara are.

Michaels could go through a facelift. They could change their storefront. They could change their store sign. They could paint their store a different color. They could guarantee that their wi-fi works or they could make everything in the store free. They could even change their name to “Mike’s” and have their slogan mimic the great Gatorade ad: I wanna be like Mike. I still wouldn’t go to “Mike’s” because I’m not into crafting or crafty things.

The only reason I would find myself in Michaels is if my wife threatened gently invited me to go with her.

I’m not suggesting that non-churchgoing folks have quite the adverse reaction to church that I do to Michaels. What I’m trying to say is that, perhaps, the only people who will notice the changes to your building and campus are your church members. People who have little to no interest in going to church to begin with probably wouldn’t notice if your building disappeared altogether.

But you know what your non-churchgoing friends might have an interest in? You. Think of all the places you’ve gone because you were invited.

The most effective way to get folks to your church is for you to invite them to come with you. A church planter told me that “80% of newcomers come on the elbow of someone else” meaning they were invited. But that takes effort and risk. You may be turned down. You may be scoffed at. You may have to do some work.

Having a great building is important for increasing the quality of overall church life. But putting ourselves out there and inviting folks is what ensures that our buildings will continue to be used as instruments of God’s saving work for years to come.

Joseph Yoo is pastor of St. Mark United Methodist Church in Santa Barbara, California. He is the author of Practical Prayer and Encountering Grace. He blogs at

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