With multi-million dollar projects in the works, the faithful are left to consider the ethics of their holy building plans.
When First Baptist Church of Dallas announced its $48 million building project, some Baptists balked at the amount, while others stood in line to see plans for the downtown complex that will include a bookstore, coffee bar, sports-themed snack bar, a banquet hall for dinner theater or lectures, a kitchen equipped to cater downtown events off the church campus, classrooms, offices and a “brightly lighted ‘prayer tower,'” the Dallas Morning News reported.
Pastor Mac Brunson told members of First Baptist that the church’s only purpose is to “connect people to Jesus Christ.”
With some people, it just takes a good cup of coffee or hot wings in front of the big screen television.
First Baptist Dallas is not alone in its visions of grandeur. Park Cities Baptist Church, just a few miles from downtown, is readying to sign on for a $35 million project to add a three-level underground parking garage topped by a community life center, gymnasium, great hall and classrooms, according to the Baptist Standard.
And outside of Dallas, in the Plano suburb, construction is already under way on phase two of Prestonwood Baptist Church’s facility. “The current $46 million project will add to the $72 million first phase built in 1999 when the church relocated from North Dallas,” the Standard reported.
Aside from elaborate and enormous building projects, 21st-century-minded churches also are enlisting fund-raising firms to help with the multi-million dollar capital campaigns.
First Baptist Dallas is using RSI, the same Dallas-based fund-raising firm used by Prestonwood. RSI also helped Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago bring in the $80 million needed for its building project, according to the Standard.
Many smaller churches have neither the super-sized desire to build, nor the multi-million dollar funds to spend. What makes the difference in church building projects, pastors and lay people agree, is the heart of the endeavor. What motivates today’s churches to build, expand and remodel?
For First Baptist Church in Rome, Ga., it was a matter of keeping the building in good repair and preparing for future ministry opportunities.
“What you have and how you keep it says something about what you think of God,” pastor Joel Snider told EthicsDaily.com. “We had interior walls that were crumbling away. Watching them fall around us wasn’t an option.”
Snider said they decided to remodel based on two principles: the building “should reflect our best for God” and “the building is a tool for ministry … we had to remodel … for the world we wanted to reach today.”
First Baptist Church in Greensboro, N.C., raised $3.9 million for its recent renovations.
“Jesus called the Temple his Father’s house,” pastor Ken Massey told EthicsDaily.com. “He never criticized its opulence.”
Massey said that although God doesn’t have an exclusive home in temples built with hands, once a building is dedicated to God, it should reflect his glory.
“Like worship itself, God’s house should ‘say’ what is true about God’s nature and purpose,” Massey said. “I simply reject the notion that grand places of worship are always without redeeming value.”
Whether building new or renovating old, most pastors agree that the church building should always serve the practical purpose of ministry.
Pastor David Hull of First Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., likens church building projects to the parable of the talents from Mathew 25. Included in the parable, he told EthicsDaily.com, are three biblical principles churches should consider:
Stewardship—the talents belonged to the owner, not the servants. “In the same way, a church is the steward for property and facilities that do not belong to itself,” Hull said.
Responsibility—the talents should be used responsibly. “To do nothing as roofs leak, paint chips and plumbing is stopped,” Hull said, “would be similar to ‘burying our talents in the ground.'”
Investment—the talents should be invested for a favorable return. Hull said, “The work that is done to renovate old buildings or build new ones must always be for the larger purpose of enlarging a congregation’s ministry to people in need.”
David Crocker, pastor of Snyder Memorial Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C., is in the midst of his third church building program. He said he has struggled more and more each time.
“I have come to the conviction that churches should be very careful about the decision to enlarge their facilities and resist it as long as possible,” Crocker told EthicsDaily.com. “New facilities should be provided or old ones renovated only when the church’s ministry is impaired by not doing so.”
Although Crocker said he was somewhat conflicted about his own church’s decision to raise millions of dollars to enhance its already large complex, he said they proceeded because the church voted to do it and are giving generously to fund it.
Crocker said another albatross of church building programs is the amount of time a pastor must spend focusing on a capital campaign or building plans. It “definitely distracts from other, more important pastoral responsibilities,” he said.
The question of stewardship is tricky for some.
Good stewardship bears good fruit, Michael Queen, pastor of First Baptist Church in Wilmington, N.C., told EthicsDaily.com.
“You are good stewards when the project results in new believers, strengthened faith and expanded ministries,” Queen said. He feels his church is experiencing all three.
Queen said his church proves that new facilities can help a church grow.
“We would still be at 400 in Sunday School unless we had expanded our facilities,” he said. Now First Baptist boasts more than 550 in Sunday school and 750 in worship.
The church will next add a second Sunday school session and a third Sunday morning worship service in its current space, with no new buildings planned. Reallocation of space and time is one way land-locked churches, like First Baptist, accommodate growth without swallowing up all available space around the church.
Crocker said it’s not the spending that is bad, but for what the money is spent.
“It’s one thing to spend money on ministry,” he said. “It is quite another to spend on ourselves. I’m more convinced than ever that most churches are focused inward and building programs accentuate that focus.”
Jodi Mathews is communications director for EthicsDaily.com.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is the third in a four-part series about church building projects. Part four, “Ethical Considerations in a Church Building Program: One Church’s Story,” is included at EthicsDaily.com today as well. Also follow the links below to read the first two stories in the series.