Thinking Out Loud

February 9, 2016

Abandoned Megachurches circa 2026

The interior of an abandoned church is seen on September 5, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. From the Huffington Post link below, click through to see 14 more abandoned churches.

The interior of an abandoned church is seen on September 5, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. From the Huffington Post, May 2015.

This weekend I heard part of a story that made me shudder. A megachurch. Mortgage-free. An issue arises. A split. People leave. Now there’s a mortgage. The future not as assured as it once was.

I very sincerely hope and pray that this one has a happy ending; that its best days are ahead. But it got us talking last night at dinner about the prophets of doom who predict there are going to be a long list of abandoned megachurches in North America at some point in the future. The ones who say that it’s only the personality of the founding pastor that is drawing the crowds. The experts who tell us that the move is going to be to smaller community churches and home fellowships. I hope they’re all wrong.

I mean it; well at least partly wrong. For all the negative articles in books, magazines and blogs about the downside to mass market worship, I think the specter of dozens of abandoned churches like the one in our picture above is far worse. You can take hundred-year-old churches now and turn them into trendy restaurants or antique shops, but unless a municipality arts group or a community college wants the space, it’s harder to do that with a 3,000 seat auditorium. Any decommissioned church is a sad story, but with today’s gigantic facilities, the buyers are fewer.

The scene is not totally far-fetched. Wikipedia lists 22 abandoned major shopping malls in the U.S. The internet abounds with photojournalism studies of dead malls. (That last link has literally hundreds of abandoned retail properties.) Ironically, the ideal location for megachurches and malls is identical: In suburbia at the intersection of two freeways.

The term sometimes used is Architectural Corpses. While some believe that churches which have sketchy theology are just a house of cards waiting to collapse, nobody wants to think that the congregation taught weekly by their favorite preacher would ever succumb to such a fate.

Three years ago Wade Burleson wrote:

…The pendulum is swinging back toward churches creating loose organizational structures in order to facilitate a wider array of ministries. For the next few decades, those evangelical churches that will continue to grow in numbers and Kingdom influence are those churches that spend less on facilities, learn how to worship in multiple venues and at various times, and focus more on building a network of effective small groups that collectively do missions both locally and globally. The climate and culture of the evangelical church has changed. Any church that focuses on large in-house productions, massive buildings, and ministries more conducive to “come and receive” instead of “go and give” is in for a surprise.

Let’s call it the Evangelical Fiscal Cliff.

Churches that have borrowed to build massive facilities are behind the proverbial eight ball. They must continue to focus on sustaining and maintaining the organization (utilities, repairs, staffing, and publicity to bring people into the high dollar facilities for “special events”), instead of empowering people to do the work of the ministry away from the buildings…

Most of the other articles on this topic simply use the subject as a means of attacking the doctrine of popular American pastors and churches.

In terms of church culture trends, Wade is probably correct, but an interesting thing happened here in Canada many, many years ago. They simply stopped building new shopping malls. This created a supply/demand equilibrium, and while some have indeed closed, and others are reconfigured as parts of outdoor power centers, many of the ones that remained are continuing to thrive, as evidenced by packed parking lots.

So in some respects, I know the future is going to contain a few forsaken megachurch buildings, but in general, I hope American Christianity can prove the doomsayers wrong.

The website abandoned.photos said this church was designed to seat 10,000 but provided no further annotation.

The website abandoned.photos said this church was designed to seat 10,000 but provided no further annotation.

Finally, I couldn’t help but pull this photo out of the files. I am sure that in its former days the members of this cathedral could never have imagined this, but what re-purposing of today’s churches exceeds our imagination? It’s sobering to consider.

The above is taken from a Wall Street Journal article about European Cathedrals being sold off, this one in Holland was re-purposed as a skateboard park.

The above is taken from a Wall Street Journal article about European Cathedrals being sold off, this one in Holland was re-purposed as a skateboard park.

Cathedral Repurposed as Skateboard Park


Related:

 

April 16, 2013

Why That “Different Kind of Church” Looks Like All The Rest

Filed under: Church, technology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:55 am

Church Stage Design Ideas dot com

David Murrow has been blogging up a storm lately. We just used one of his pieces here last week, and I can’t reblog everything he writes; but on the other hand, I cant ignore his more recent post, Why I Am Not Too Excited About Church Planting.  His basic thesis:

Everyone’s planting the same church. I’ve visited half a dozen young church plants over the past two years. And they are virtually indistinguishable from one another. See if this lineup sounds familiar:

  • Approximately 15 minutes of praise music, played by a rock band.
  • A projector, sound system and stage lighting
  • A separate nursery and children’s program concurrent with “big church”
  • A 25 to 40 minute sermon delivered by a young, informally dressed man
  • An offering, plus maybe a sacrament (communion, etc.)
  • A closing song or two, also led by the rock band.
  • Service length: between 70 and 90 minutes.

Well, he’s got that right. And don’t forget the 60-second video ‘title package’ which precedes the sermon…

So annually we have thousands of churches re-inventing the wheel. But years ago, the phrase “a different kind of church” was all the rage. How did all these different churches end up so much the same? 

He concludes this section by noting, “We haven’t had this much conformity in worship since the days of medieval Catholicism.”

It’s the new, high-tech liturgy. But all that tech for both the primary service and the alternative service for children involves gear and set-up. It is both capital intensive and labor intensive.  And it rises or falls on the ability of the pastor to resonate with everybody.  No pressure.  Murrow concludes:

If we’re planting 4,000 churches a year at $125,000 per congregation, that’s half a billion dollars per year going into church planting in America alone. Seventy percent of that money is going into churches that won’t exist in 24 months. Church plants will consume 40 million volunteer hours this year. Couldn’t these vast resources be more profitably employed for the Kingdom?

Yes, David, they could, and they should.

One thing that he notes here that I feel very strongly about is the existence of mortgage free church buildings that are hosting dwindling congregations. Michael Frost has been instrumental in spreading awareness of this situation, and his own church in Manly, Australia — a congregation known as Small Boat Big Sea — successfully integrated into a building that was underutilized.   Murrow writes:

Most church buildings are owned debt-free. Many of these churches sit empty 160 hours a week. And they’re half-empty on Sunday. Why don’t existing congregations allow new churches to meet in their paid-off buildings at alternate times? (We’re already seeing this as ethnic congregations are using existing churches for Sunday afternoon services.)

I encourage you to (a) take 3-4 minutes to re-read all this at David’s blog; (b) share this article with senior leadership at your church who don’t object to doing some critical thinking.  Here’s the link.

Image: Church Stage Design Ideas

January 18, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Lloyd the Llink Llist Llama

In case you missed it, there was an epic link list here on Saturday, too.  Well, we thought it was epic. Or mega. Or just plain large.  And if you’re reading this on the actual Wednesday, between 00:00 and 23:99 EST, you’re reading it in an internet world without Wikipedia.

August 21, 2011

Changing Churches for all the Right Superficial Reasons

I don’t plan it out this way, but some of the best items here dealing with church issues end up getting posted on Sunday.  This piece at Vic The Vicar’s blog really got me thinking.

…We go to a church because we like the way they play music and yet in doing so ignore the quality of the teaching, the theological truths and the essential tenets. We swing from Anglican to Baptist because they have better coffee and by so doing move from paedobaptism to anabaptism. We move from Pentecostal to Anglican because of the teaching and suddenly we’re into proper liturgy (should start a fight ;) )!

We make our consumer choices without realising the theological and spiritual statements we make.

We make decisions about what our churches should be – we decide that pews restrict the use and then struggle to move or do anything because of the stacked chairs (we always forget to have a room to store stuff!). We speak of open, fluid spaces, which allow us to do so much and then put the chairs out in the same way the pews were…

It’s true, and since I read this a few days ago, I encountered two people who said they changed churches because of the music, and in both cases the change represented a dramatic shift in doctrine, one of which was so extreme that I can’t actually print it here as I have local readers who might immediately recognize the story.

Anyway, I posted this comment at Vic’s:

…I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of someone changing churches because as they were studying a particular scripture they became convinced as to a particular doctrine. It is, as you say, often coffee or music or…

On the other hand, I’d like to see churches offer both decaf and regular coffee, but alas I digress.

Vic the Vicar also has an excellent piece about churches which are given historical site designations which end up hampering their ability to do anything with their building.

  • …One of the members of the offending society visited the building and explained that we were effectively ‘guests’ in a building that was a monument to William Morris…
  • … I did ask whether the society would like to take on the running and maintenance costs of the building as they held it so dear but apparently it wasn’t that dear!!!

Although North America doesn’t have the wonderful old buildings that they have in his native England, this problem is increasingly showing up in Canada and the U.S.

February 4, 2010

New (Old) Uses for Church Buildings

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:55 pm

From USAToday Religion

Imagine moving an entire church building 900 miles from Buffalo, NY to Atlanta, GA.  That’s exactly the fate that could wait for St. Gerard’s, one of 22 churches for sale in the greater Buffalo area.  USAToday’s Rick Hampson reports:   “Meanwhile, in Georgia another church was at the other end of the congregational life cycle.  Father David Dye, the pastor wanted ‘a church that looks like a church, a real house of God,’ not a sterile ‘meeting house.’  He commissioned architectural plans for such a church and began calling dioceses in the Northeast, looking for an altar.  When he called Boston — which had closed 44 parishes — he was offered an entire church.   Although the Boston Church turned out to be unavailable, Dye kept looking until he saw St. Gerard’s.  When he saw the photos he was startled:  The church looked just liked the one he’d commissioned.” Continue reading the whole story at USAToday Religion.   Also check out the project website Moved By Grace.

January 13, 2010

Wednesday Link List

Oh, Oh, The places you’ll go!   This week we open with some lighter fare, and then move something more “think-provoking:”

  • Perry Noble asks the musical question, “What if the Pharisees Had Twittered?”   Read the tweets here.
  • Got 65 minutes?  Apparently, Mark Driscoll finds the Bible rather funny.   Personally, I was taught a little more reverence for scripture than this.
  • From the humorous to the ridiculous:  First came pet blessings, now comes the blessing of laptops and cell phones.
  • Mike Wittmer has 15 Signs That Your Sermon Isn’t Going Well — you may disagree on #13 — as he Monday Morning Quarterbacks at the blog Don’t Stop Believing.
  • At last!  A webpage that tells you the religious affiliation of every known superhero.
  • Blog of the week:  Can you handle another Atlanta blogger?  Tom calls his blog More Than Useless.
  • When it comes to church buildings, conferences, leadership and missions, Tim Stevens looks at the changes that have taken place in one decade here (part one) and here (part two).
  • The Christian Ranter notes that technology is currently taking us backward, not forward, in this piece, Devolution and Idiocracy.
  • Dean Lusk, inspired by Francis Chan’s church’s 100% giveaway of their Christmas Sunday offering, ponders what might be the reaction if he proposed this at his own church.   At the blog ‘egbdf’ check out Our Bottom Line.
  • Our YouTube non-embed of the week is from Craig Groeschel lifechurch.tv and gives us a whole new (disturbing) perspective of Church Online.
  • Next on the list was going to be a link to the Top 50 Bible Blogs that I assure you, you’ve never heard of, but the BiblioBlogTop50 blog on wordpress is now invitation only.   A secret blog about mystery blogs.  Wish I’d done a screenshot when I was in yesterday.   Anyone know a magic password? Update: And suddenly it was working again.
  • Shouldn’t news anchors be somewhat impartial?   It took a lot of courage for Brit Hume to suggest on Fox News that Tiger Woods would experience more forgiveness in a Christian context than his Buddhist faith offers.   But was it a wise move?
  • Cathleen Falsani thinks that — next to the whole prosperity gospel thing — the use of Jesus as a marketing tool is The (Second) Worst Religious Idea of the Decade; as she states here at Sojourners.
  • Trevin Wax reviews a new IVP title that focuses on a very specific subsection of the baptism debate, the baptism of infants.   Does the book get the job done?   Check out his thoughts on Baptism: Three Views.
  • Today’s cartoon is a 2005 classic from Reverend Fun

Blog at WordPress.com.