When you picture a church building, what does it look like? A traditional brick structure or a white clapboard edifice? A glassy modern building or a school gym? An auditorium or a theatre? Stained glass or clear glass or no windows at all? A central pulpit or an elevated pulpit off to the side or no pulpit? A chancel or a stage? A narthex or a welcome center? Pews or movable chairs?
Newer congregations (those established sometime in the past 50 years) seem not to be as attached to their buildings as congregations in older churches. Believe me, if you worship in a church sanctuary that dates back to the 18th or 19th or even the early 20th Century, people are attached to that building.
New church buildings – if new church plants meet in a church building at all – don’t have Tiffany windows and hand carved pews. It’s easier not to become attached to the building when it doesn’t feature soaring arches and cozy cushioned pews.
But longtime church people are very attached to their church buildings. Very. Attached.
In a changing world, the church building becomes The Constant for many. And today, more and more churches are closing after a slow death. Some are being sold to other congregations. Some are being sold to developers. And the pain must be excruciating for those who have loved both those buildings and the people who once prayed there.
So yesterday, I was meeting with leaders from the 1001 New Worshiping Communities in our denomination and was told a cool thing: sometimes when churches decide they don’t have the capacity to continue, they give their buildings to new congregations just getting started. S. was telling us that sometimes the older members of the former church come back to worship with the new congregation in the old church building.
The people are different. The music is different. Maybe even the language is different.
But the older members sometimes come back. It’s the place where they got to know God. No matter who’s there, God is also there. It’s their church home.
Image of one of the prettiest little sanctuaries in the United States: Union Church of Pocantico Hills, NY.