On a dreary March morning in 1884, the foundations for a new church building were laid in Barcelona in the northeast corner of Spain. As I write this, it still isn’t finished. When the last of the eight spires are completed (more than 56 stories in height) the builders will be able to claim it is the tallest church in the world.
It’s an amazing structure. The parts that are finished are indescribably beautiful. Spanish architect, Anton Gaudi, designed it and though he died nearly a hundred years ago (1926) it is still a tribute to his esthetic genius. He loved to muse, “Generations of Christians will worship in my church.” Wisely, Gaudi built a school next door to the site for the children of the workers. More than a dozen generations of students have attended there. How would you like to serve on that building committee?
As I began to learn about the Sacrada Familia (Holy Family) church it began to trouble me. It’s none of my business, really, except as a believer I am interested in anything that helps to build God’s kingdom and hasten the telling of His story.
The current population of greater Barcelona is over 5.5 million. I can’t help but wonder if a church building that is still under construction 137 years after its inception will have any significant impact on its community?
This is not a criticism of the people of Barcelona. It is rather an opportunity for me to reflect on the effectiveness of my own faith group. It motivates me to wrestle with priorities. Is every decision we make focused on getting the good news into the hearts of as many people as possible as quickly as possible? Building church buildings is not our assignment; telling people about Jesus, is. If a new building can help us be more efficient (as opposed to just more comfortable) with that job, then let’s do it. But let’s be sure that’s our only motive. Time on our knees is the only way we can know for sure.
It’s a natural tendency for a local congregation to launch because it wants to reach its community with the gospel story, but then within a few years begin to build its annual budget around the needs of the people who are, after all, paying the mortgage. What shall we call that, loss of focus? Are you willing to lay your church’s budget up against that priority gauge? Useful topic for a leadership team meeting (on its knees) in your church, no matter the age of your building.
By Don Jacobsen (hope-heals.org)