Where Should A New Church Meet?

June 19, 2007 by

We’ve talked here on CMS before about church buildings.

Recently Drew Goodmanson referenced an article by Dr. Ed Stetzer called “Where Should A New Church Meet?”

The article is a report polling 1200 people, asking, “If you were considering visiting or joining a church, would knowing that the church does not meet in a traditional church building impact your decision?” Their answers were particularly interesting.

  • 73% said it made no difference.
  • 19% said it would negatively impact their decision.
  • 6% said it would positively impact their decision.
  • 2% were unsure.

I’m not here to interpret the statistics or to tell you exactly the decisions to make. Maybe church building doesn’t suck, but church buildings in general suck. I won’t make the call as to what is right, because I don’t think it’s my place, but what do you think? Does the statistic boil down to 19% negative and 6% positive? Have we overvalued the importance of a building?

Maybe we’ll poll you guys about this in the future to see how you compare to the study’s sample group. But for now, let us know how you feel about this study in the comments.

Post By:

Joshua Cody

Josh Cody served as our associate editor for several years before moving on to bigger things. Like Texas. These days he lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, and you can find him online or on Twitter when he's not wrestling code.
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24 Responses to “Where Should A New Church Meet?”

  • Bill LaMorey
    June 19, 2007

    Venus matter…period. Though I don’t mean it has to be a dedicated church building.
    We’re on our 4th location in 2 years and after a basement in a community center and 2 different hotels, we’re finally in a great venue at a school.
    I think the issue is that because church planters have endless amounts of creativity we can envision and convert any space into a church. The problem is people considering attending your church (especially non-Christians) aren’t as dedicated to making it work as we are. Thus the limitations and flaws that we tend to ignore or “spin” are more noticeable to them.
    So portable is good, but some places will contribute more greatly to success or failure than others. A friend of mine who just moved his church to a school is kicking himself in the rear for the last year they spent idle while meeting in a funeral home…

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  • Shae
    June 19, 2007

    A funeral home? Yikes. So…are people DYING to get into his church? Wakka wakka wakka. Sorry. Had to say it.
    Yeah, we’ve been gathering 40+ people in my home for the last 8 months…we’re currently trying to get on campus at our local community college. I would love to convert an old church building into something suitable for our gathering style, but we just don’t have the budget for it yet.
    I would be interested to know how practical it is for new church plants to be changing venues often…I’ve resisted moving to an intermediate location for the last 3 months simply because I found consistency to be a huge benefit – even when we’ve been crowded beyond belief in our current situation.

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  • Mean Dean
    June 19, 2007

    Many school districts across the U.S. recoup operational expenses by renting their unused facilities to organizations such as churches.
    This is a good place to start as one can generally obtain an auditorium and/or cafeteria space for the service – with classrooms provisioned for Bible study.
    And in cases of auditoriums, equipment and facilities are provided either gratis or via a service charge – such as speakers, microphones, set-up and take-down services, security, etc …
    Moreover, it is a good way to build a new church around an existing community space.
    That and with the ability to create a virtual office space and/or presentation/documentation – one can focus on growing the congration renting such a facility before having to expend funds on non-virtual administrative supplies and/or facilities.

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  • miracle
    June 19, 2007

    I think it is important for a church to find a building that they could call home. If only for marketing sake, but how frustrating would it be to want to attend a church but couldn’t find them because they are constantly moving. Whether or not its rented or owned, the church needs a consistent space where people can say “Oh, they meet there”.
    The layout and use of church buildings is an entirely different discussion.

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  • jimmy@relevantchristian
    June 19, 2007

    What about ‘home churches’?
    I would be interested to know what number of people are involved in home churches, and whether or not that number is growing or decreasing.
    Color Me Curious!

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  • Mean Dean
    June 19, 2007

    Jimmy, not a bad point. Just some personal history along those lines, I attended a small house church ‘out of rebellion’ … run by Brian McLaren’s dad.
    When the group got to big, Brian helped facilitate the move to a local elementary school. The rest is history.
    That and I have _alot_ of knowledge regarding school facilities rentals for churches and other organizations … it’s a viable solution until a church can entirely figure out it’s calling and committment to a full time space of its own.

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  • chad king
    June 19, 2007

    I think the reason that those numbers are so low is that the people polled have no preference because half or more of them wouldn’t consider visiting a church in the first place. I think the question is ‘off’ to begin with. It’s very hard to compute a statistic like that. Our church meets in a school but if we went into a building I’m sure our numbers would increase. A building gives you a sense of stability and permanence. It establishes ‘roots’ in a community. I think alot of people who think about church in a school or theater relate that with the ‘fly by night’ halloween stores that pop up in Sept and are gone by Nov. 1st!

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  • Dsnyd
    June 19, 2007

    I imagine we all see different things in those numbers. I see 19% that we need to figure out how to move to one of the other categories either by having a church building or changing their views on the needs of a church building.
    I guess there is a potential that 6% of the people would see a church building as a negative but if we had a church building and could gain the 19% we would be netting a 13% gain.
    I think the smartest strategy is probably to try changing the view of the 19% by using design and church beautification (as I hear it called) techniques to help make the school or whatever other building look and feel more like a church when people visit.

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  • Eric Stillman
    June 19, 2007

    As the pastor of a small church meeting in a random lodge in suburban Connecticut, I wonder if New Englanders would answer this question differently than those in other parts of America. My experience has been that the typical New Englander equates “church” with a building, and a group of Christians meeting in a school is more like a cult than a real church. Is this the way it is around the country, or is it just up here in the chilly Northeast?

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  • Bill
    June 19, 2007

    I am wondering if this poll has been broken down regionally. Reason for pondering this is because in our area, which is populated by large numbers of nominal ethnic traditional catholics, our meeting in a school cafetorium has offered an objection which we have to overcome.

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  • Geoff Brown
    June 19, 2007

    Here’s another vote for a regional breakdown of results.
    However, here in chilly New England there are lots of churches that are happy to rent their space to another denomination for part of Sunday.
    One other thing to consider is whether your space (owned or otherwise) has space for ancillary activities, whether it’s a recreation ministry, Sunday school, or whatever. My guess is that as many would see the lack of space for ancillary activities as a more critical defect than worshiping someplace other than in a church building.

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  • Ben
    June 19, 2007

    Did the school meeting thing for about 7 years. At the end of the 7 we were at about 400 – 450 attendance. Built the building and moved in April 2006. We’ve doubled sitting here June of 2007 averaging 800 – 850 in attendance.
    Our experience is that there are many people who won’t cross the doors of a church unless it has it’s own doors. but that’s not true for everyone.

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  • Beth
    June 19, 2007

    Dsnyd said “My experience has been that the typical New Englander equates “church” with a building, and a group of Christians meeting in a school is more like a cult than a real church.”
    I spent 17 years in RI and 30 in Maine. Just moved to GA a few months ago. I agree, church is church to this New Englander. Meeting in a lodge or a school seems weird and impermanent and cult-like to me. I never heard of that till I moced here. But then again, I’m pretty literal.
    Church is church, school is school, town office is town office…each building has a purpose and structure to match. It’s a prevailing attitude where I’m from. I am 100% more likely to find a church that looks like a church and attend that faithfully from the get-go than to follow a congregation around from place to place.

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  • Matt
    June 19, 2007

    I love the stats and the answers because they all point to the answer but dance around it – a choice is a good thing. Why not have some churches in church buildings and others in non-church buildings? That way, rather than reaching some and not others, we appeal to all 25% that care about where the church meets.
    If it comes down to “how should my individual church deal with these stats”, then perhaps a video venue in a non-church setting would be a viable solution.
    At the end of the day, we are all part of the same church regardless of our meeting place, and hopefully we aren’t attracting the same people.

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  • Mean Dean
    June 20, 2007

    Egad Matt, I didn’t think I was dancin’ …
    … just suggesting an interim rental solution until a Church body could figure out what God is calling it to do on a permanent basis …
    … and to support seekers and members in the meantime. I mean with construction costs what they are, even to renovate an old building, some congregations need temporary space.

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  • Dave
    June 20, 2007

    Surveys regularly show that people don’t have a clear understanding of themselves! We’re much more effected by buildings than we like to think.
    My church is buying a traditional building; when we meet our new neighbours they’re extremely sceptical until we explain which building we’re buying, then they suddenly become friendly and say “it’s wonderful that’s it’s going to be used as a church again.”
    God’s given us amazing opportunities that we’ve never had before when we’ve met in school halls and certainly wouldn’t get if we went for the more obvious route of converting an old warehouse.

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  • Lex
    June 20, 2007

    Building or no building seems – even from the range of comments posted here – to depend largely on the community and the people a church is trying to reach.
    That said there are some ministry’s doing amazing things in buildings that are not their own. New Hope in Hawaii meets in the largest public school on the island, and they use it as a really simple way to reach into the community. They volunteer a lot of groundskeeping and maintenance services at the school and neighboring businesses. The principal of the school has said she hopes they never leave. That’s using your circumstance to be a good witness.

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  • Eric Atkins
    June 26, 2007

    I’m proud to be attending “church” in a brewery. Yes. A brewery: http://sojournhuntsville.org

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  • Jim Swanson
    June 26, 2007

    Enough is enough! Is there any end to the Sandwich Board Churches that are springing up everywhere?
    I drive about 5 miles to get to our church. Last Sunday morning I passed 7 sandwich board signs directing me to a church. All of them with a different name.
    Some corners had two signs on the same corner both of them pointing to a different school. I also pass a school campus that has both an elementary and Junior High School in the same building. There are two sandwich boards on the corner directing me to two different churches IN THE SAME BUILDING with two pastors, one for each group.
    I saw a car the other day with a surf board on the roof inviting people to the surfers church on the beach.

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  • todd
    July 6, 2007

    just a quick comment on the school building thing… we did it and found many probems along the way: (1) inadequate facilities for kids and sunday school; (2) limit on number of people we could draw; (3) terrible accoustics and sound equipment; (4) and this is the killer… someone in the community pressed the school district on “separation of church and state”, so the school caved in and kicked out all the churches that were meeting in all their schools.
    i also agree with several comments above… people generally like, want, and need a consistent place to meet. how can it feel like a real church “family” if the family keeps moving, and is living out of different hotel rooms so frequently? it’s never a home, and it will feel like that to most people (imho).

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  • Ruben
    July 8, 2007

    We are in the process of planting a new church,and in one of our recent studies of the early believers we noted that they met in such locations as:
    1. Upper Room (Acts 1:13)
    2. A house (Acts 2:2)
    3.Temple courts (Acts 2:46)
    4. Mary’s home (Acts 12:12)
    5.Banks of a river (Acts 16:13)
    6.Lydia’s house (Acts 16:15,40)
    7. Lecture hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9)
    8.Priscilla & Aquila’s house (Rom. 16:5)

    It seems to me that the first believers met wherever they could, and that they understood the church not to be a building, but the community of the redeemed. I was challenged several years ago to adjust my vocabulary to reflect this distinction. Thus the church on the corner is really the church building on the corner. I do agree that there are many advantages to having a building but all too often we err by placing our attention on our programs instead of people. One fine church I know of met at a YMCA for 7 years before buying a building. Another a movie theatre. Another a skating rink. I helped plant a church in Detroit years ago in which we even took over a XXX theatre, cleaned it up (don’t ask!), and started a church there. I think far too often we get buildings and take care of them, but don’t take care of our people. Our culture knows this. That’s one reason why house churches, cell churches, multi-site churches, or those in “temporary/alternative” locations are attractive (IMHO).

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  • gary
    July 11, 2007

    We’ve been meeting in a school hall in Johannesburg South Africa over the last 3 years. We have moved location twice, and have seen amazing growth. Our last membership class showed that 87% were invited to our church by someone they knew. This helps overcome the concern that we are not meeting in a ‘traditional’ church building. The real issue goes around the drain on volunteers setting up and breaking down every weekend.

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  • Del
    February 1, 2008

    We just bought an old skate rink (and adjoining Health Club) we have been meeting in since opening a little over a year ago. We got 30,000 sq. feet of space at a fraction of what it would cost to buy land and build. We are in the deep South and cope with the prevailing attitude “if it ain’t a traditional church building, it ain’t a real church”. We are attempting to reach those who are not so enamored by trad churches however. Anyone else out there converting non-religious buildings into church facilities? I’d like to know how it’s going.

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  • Nate
    April 21, 2009

    Stop going to church for a few weeks, see if anyone notices you were gone, tries to keep in touch, or even cares. Sounds like quite a few people have a bad case of “church-olatry.” American Christians should take a trip to Europe and see all the vacant buildings once called church. Then maybe we in the U.S. would come to appreciate that the church is relationships with people, not warming a pew. I think the main problem propelling this issue of “where should a new church meet” is based on this mindset that we go to church “to worship”, when, in fact, Christians should be worshipping God all day long. Church is where we go to encourage fellow Christians!

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