One of the old songs I learned as child:
The church is not a building.
The church is not a steeple
The church is not a resting place.
The church is the people.
However, as a church planter, space is arbitrary and yet space is Everything! People still associate church with a space. As a consultant, I’ve seen that one of the things that is toughest for church planters is finding space. Space is either extremely expensive to rent, not zoned for a church or requires a multi-year contract to lease.
When I was a church planter in Lexington, Kentucky there was an old gymnasium in a downtown area that we were going to purchase. It had showers, locker-rooms, and adequate room for growth. We had a contract on the building, but at our zoning hearing the neighbors protested against us because of our ministry to folks on the margins of society. They didn’t want anymore of “those” people in their neighborhood. Previous to this, there was another church looking at making a move in an old bread factory that received similar treatment. That old bread factory has now become a microbrewery.
In the 90s and even up until a few years ago, public schools were great places for church plants, but now that landscape has even changed for the worse. Unless you’re moving into an existing building that has already been zoned for a church, space is hard to come by.
I think what Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost pointed out in The Shaping of Things to Come holds true in our Post-Christian world when they said: “…what is needed is the abandonment of the strict lines of demarcation between the sacred and profane spaces in our world and the recognition that people today are searching for relational communities that offer belonging, empowerment, and redemption.” Hirsch and Frost then lay out 4 characteristics of missional church models. One that has resonated with me and can help future church planters to think outside of the box is proximity spaces that are “places or events where Christians and not-yet-Christians can interact meaningfully with each other.” This can involve developing cafes, nightclubs, art galleries, design studios, etc.
We are assuming too much when Christians and church leaders believe the only place Christians can meet with God or receive divine revelations must be in a church building.
In moving forward, the line of demarcation needs to disappear. The interactions between Christians and not-yet-Christians are essential for the next movement within Post-Christianity. Out of the box thinking is imperative when it comes to a space where people gather together for worship and live a life of service as one.