New Testament Thinking On Church Buildings
I spend a lot of time talking and thinking about church buildings. From older churches trying to rethink their 1960’s built classrooms to new churches trying to fit the nursery into a school hallway. Buildings are important to churches. I wish it weren’t so sometimes. Because they are SO EXPENSIVE! And a church building eats money 7 days per week, when most churches use it 2-3 days per week. Being Portable is a good option to cut cost, but even portable church doesn’t guarantee effective contextualized ministry in a community or the multiplication of disciples. Often times pastors express to me the limitations of the building to ministry and multiplication.
What guidance can we find in the New Testament for the use of buildings for church? Not much. The idea of building a church for worship, etc. had not come into its own yet. We see homes, parties, synagogues (Jewish teaching centers), mountainsides, the Jewish Temple, and lake shores utilized for the ministry of Jesus and the local church. And then one of my favorite spaces mentioned in the Bible is “the Hall of Tyrannus” in Acts 19:8-10:
8 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly over a period of three months, arguing and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became hardened and would not believe, slandering the Way in front of the crowd, he withdrew from them, taking the disciples, and conducted discussions every day in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.
We don’t know a lot about this lecture hall, but what we do know can give us some principles of thinking Biblically about buildings.
- It was a Public Place – I’ve written about the need for churches to be located in familiar, visible locations HERE. This Hall was evidently in the city center and a well-known place.
- It was a Place for Disciples to Gather – Paul took the disciples from the synagogue, where they were unwelcomed, to this hall where he could train them further in evangelism and life on mission. It was a place for gathering disciples.
- It was a Place to Interact with Unbelievers – Non-believers were invited in and comfortable with this space. Discussions were held that no doubt served to evangelize the lost and equip the saved.
- It was a Place for Disciples to Be Sent Out – All of Asia heard the word of the Lord! Wow! That’s serious multiplication. Who was spreading this word? And without radio, podcast, live streaming? No doubt, those who were being equipped and trained by Paul and others at the Hall.
The Hall of Tyrannus was a building that made possible the exponential multiplication of disciples. That should be the goal for every church and the hope of every church building project or meeting space.
What challenges does your current gathering space offer for the multiplication of disciples? Number 1 and 3 are most likely challenges for many churches today.
How can you make your church building more of a public space that is useful to the whole community? A few ideas:
- Starting a Daycare, MOPS, or Mother’s Day Out Program
- Starting a coffee shop or diner
- Opening the building for after school programs
- Holding public forums, training events for the community
- Moving into a public space like a gym or a movie theater or school for worship
How can you make your church building a place to interact with today’s unbelievers? Stained glass and steeples are not the answer that they used to be for people experiencing life. A few ideas:
- Think through service times and styles. Later services are easier for young and unchurched families to attend.
- Offer discussion forums for people with questions about life and God. Check out Life Tree Cafe for starter ideas on how to do this.
- Start compassion ministry that deals with real life issues for unchurched people in your community like addiction, teen addiction, poverty, divorce care, grief care, etc. Get started on exploring needs and resources for compassion ministry here.
What ideas do you have for making church buildings more effective in multiplying disciples? What other takeaways from Paul’s use of the Hall of Tyrannus can you share?