If You Could Have a Pastor OR a Church Building, Which Would You Choose?

This is a real question for several churches I know and love.  With a building, we Common Table (2)get a place to gather and it’s often a placed drenched with community or personal history.  With a pastor, we get someone to cast a vision and equip the other leaders to do ministry.

Some churches are identified by their pastors (i.e. “I’m part of Lillian Daniel’s church.”)

Some churches are identified by their buildings (i.e. “The stone church with the beautiful windows on the corner.”)

What if we could only afford one?

The truth is that pastors are expensive, especially in denominations that require congregations to contribute to health benefits and pension plans.  But most thriving congregations have full-time professional ministers.

It’s also true that many churches have loved their buildings  more than they love God.  I, for one, love church buildings, but their purpose is to be a tool for ministry. Few of us can afford to have a expensive tool that we use for only a few hours a week.

I’m not encouraging churches to become landlords because renting space is not ministry.  Sure, our renters might do good things (e.g. teach preschoolers, support addicts, offer legal aid) but that’s their ministry, not ours.  Most of us have nominal relationships with the Scout troops or the partner churches that use our  buildings.

We have entered a season when, increasingly, congregations will need to choose between keeping their pastor or keeping their building.

Of course, most of our churches have and want both a pastor and a building.  But if you really had to choose, which would you pick?  We might have to make this decision in our lifetime.

OR we could rethink/restart/reconstruct the church as we know it.

Image of a gathering of one of my favorite spiritual communities: Common Table in Vienna, VA.

19 responses to “If You Could Have a Pastor OR a Church Building, Which Would You Choose?

  1. Hey Jan, you’ve said this many times, that churches shouldn’t be landlords but I’ve not heard a satisfying explanation as to why.

    We have groups who use our building weekly, and we hope to expand the number who do. Yes, we shouldn’t equate our tenants’ activities with ministry, but a congregation the size of Tiny is doing all of the ministry its membership can handle. We’re working to build our capacity in a variety of ways, but we are currently tapped out. It seems very poor stewardship of our building to leave it empty for hours a day simply because *we* can’t do ministry in it. (And many of the groups who use our building are doing so for free or a nominal rate.)

    Please give me more info with where you’re coming from on this. It doesn’t make sense to me.


    • This probably deserves its own post, but for starters, here’s what I see:
      – Churches wholly dependent – financially – for the rent that comes in while spending most of their efforts complaining about the renters/others who use their building. (I once spent 45 minutes in a Session meeting hearing how frustrated the elders were because the Girl Scouts had not cleaned up after their party.)
      – Churches that fundamentally see those with whom they share a building as their cash cow.
      – Churches that call their renters “partners” but they continue to be overlords rather than working side by side to serve/knowing each other.

      It’s basically about the attitude we have re: whose building is it? We honestly 1) need streams of income beyond the congregational giving and 2) are called to share what we have (e.g. space to offer to 12 Step Groups, Scouts, etc.)

      It’s a mindset. Do we say “partners” when we mean “help keep us afloat financially”?


      • I guess I wonder about the definition of “partner.” If our call is to serve our community, then isn’t making space available for other groups that also serve the community “partnering” with them? It is a partnership in a sense: they need a space to do their ministry, we have a space and offering it may be part of our ministry.

        Of course, my dream is for the church to essentially be a community center, and there’s no way a church of 90 people can provide everything a community center does…but by renting space to others, we do sort of become that.
        (we aren’t staying afloat with rent, but it’s sure nice to have, and makes some other things possible!)


  2. Thanks for the shout out!


  3. I think renting out the church building is a tricky balance. We have a day care and an adult day care in our church. It makes good use of the building during the week but it takes away staff time, including my own. There are definitely days where I take an empty building and less money for more time.


  4. What would happen if churches were built as affordable housing in an urban loft style so there were common spaces on the ground floor that could be used by the community living there but also by the church as meeting/worshipping/fellowship space?


  5. Teri–ditto on all points.


  6. This is interesting because we had to choose, mainly because we were starting with nothing after the split in our area from The Episcopal Church. My group, that wanted to stay Episcopalian, has chosen a part-time priest and we use a funeral home chapel on Sunday mornings. Our limitations have also been our blessings because we are forced into the community for all events, outreach, meetings, social events, etc… It isn’t a perfect situation and there are grumblers that we have to have a building to be a church but we are praying, and growing, and helping the community just the way we are. I think the average church will be much different in 50 years from the model that we have stuck with for so long.


  7. Interesting, and something I’ve only just begun to think about as I take on a church which houses a day care center. My husband said, “The day care pays for the building and the church pays for the pastor” — which is about the jist of it. We have a sanctuary which seats hundreds in which fewer than 50 typically worship, a kitchen that mainly serves the daycare and ONE monthly community meal, and another community room/sanctuary to which we move after Christmas because of the expense of heating the main sanctuary. So much to think about.


  8. Pingback: Wednesday Festival – First Week of Advent | RevGalBlogPals

  9. more expensive than education is ignorance (Presbyterian pastor professional has quite a bit to do with becoming educated).


  10. Pingback: The Landlord Mindset | achurchforstarvingartists

  11. In my experience, most churches with buildings but without pastors become stagnant and eventually die. Pastors are (or should be) dynamic influences helping the congregation to flex and serve–buildings are static, for the most part. Those with buildings but without pastors who truly minister through their gift of space usually do so because of the vision of a previous pastor. With an occasional exception, I’d choose having a pastor over having a building hands down–the exception being when a church truly does have a ministry of space, instead of seeing others using the space simply as a means to paying the bills.


  12. such as Weshington, D.C, at H and New York Avenue


  13. wAshington


  14. Is this even a question? God gave what for the building of the body? Eph 4:11-12. Hint: not clay bricks and a deed.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.