I was against it.
When we first started talking about building a bigger facility for Redeemer, I didn’t want to do it.
I know as well as anyone that our current building is inadequate. However, by nature I am risk averse; I am grateful that Redeemer has not struggled with finances, and I don’t want that to change. I’ve questioned if the money we’d spend on a building might better serve the Kingdom of God elsewhere. And, I wondered how important facilities really are in helping people know and follow Jesus.
I bet some of you have the same or similar questions.
At Redeemer, our desire is to build up the body of Christ, and I hope you can tell from our recent sermon series and the church-wide desserts that this is the goal for the proposed new building. Expanding our facility must help us accomplish this or we should not build.
What does that mean, to build up the body of Christ? It means two things. First, we want Redeemer to be a place where we mature as disciples who grow in knowledge of Christ and follow him more closely. Second, we want more people in Raleigh to know the love of Christ that brings perfect freedom and lasting peace.
As I was thinking and praying about the new building, I came across a few ideas that changed my perspective and I’d like share them with you.
God’s First Sanctuary
In Genesis 2, the Lord God planted a garden for Adam and Eve - our first parents. The name Eden indicates delight, pleasure, luxury, and lushness – it was a place of beauty. God put trees in the garden that not only produced good food but were also beautiful to the eyes. In the garden, there was a great river that branched out into four smaller rivers that nurtured the entire garden and it helped Adam and Eve, and all living things, thrive. We are told that God decorated the garden with gold and onyx, which shows that the garden was abundant in resources.
In Eden, we see that God intentionally made a beautiful space for his people, and this says something about God: God cares about beauty. It also says something about what God wants for his people: God cares to create a beautiful space for his people. As the ESV study Bible notes, “the overall picture of Eden presented… suggests that the park-like garden is part of a divine sanctuary.” The garden is a beautiful space created for Adam and Eve to meet with and know the Lord.
In his Genesis commentary, Bruce Waltke writes that Eden “represents territorial space in the created order where God invites human beings to enjoy bliss and harmony between themselves and God, one another, animals and the land. God is uniquely present here, the garden of Eden is a temple-garden, represented later in the tabernacle… It is the archetypal sanctuary.”
Is it just a building?
I think it is entirely possible that some churches think way too much of their buildings. Certainly Israel turned the temple into more than God meant for it to be. But, it is also possible for churches to think too little of the space that they dedicate to meeting with the Lord and to learning what God’s word teaches us and our children.
I think many Christians fail to consider what the people who don’t yet follow Christ make of our church buildings. Isn’t it important for church buildings to be both helpful and beautiful so that unbelievers are inspired to hear about our Lord? Do we care enough about others, our neighbors, to create inviting spaces for them?
I love that Redeemer has been able to accomplish so much in our current facility. However, I think we have to admit that our building is crowded and sometimes less than inviting. It can be difficult to have a conversation between services much less meet new people. If I talk with someone in the hallway right after the service for only three minutes, we will need to move out of the way two or three times to let people pass through. This is not exactly the welcoming environment that we would like to foster.
Is It Consumerism?
Raleigh dwellers place a high value on quality and distinction. When Rachel and I moved to North Raleigh from Kentucky, we noticed that the businesses, shopping centers, parks, and neighborhoods were well thought out and inviting. I thought to myself, if a business is going to make it in this neck of the woods then they are going to have to do things with excellence.
One may argue that this is just caving into the consumerism of our culture, and perhaps the desire to create a beautiful and useful sanctuary and education space is a reflection of our consumer culture. As you might imagine from my reflections on Genesis 2, I don’t agree. But if you do think this way, I would like to invite you to consider that this is the culture that God has placed us in that we would like to hear the good news about Jesus.
Thom Rainer interviewed hundreds of formerly unchurched unbelievers who came to Christ through the ministry of local churches. He found that after biblical preaching and true friendliness of the congregation, the condition of the facilities can determine whether the unchurched and unbelieving will return. Rainer found that 90% of the formerly unchurched named some factor about people or the facilities that impacted their decision to return for another visit. As he plowed more deeply into their reasoning he discovered that the issue was more about excellence than pleasing insatiable consumer appetites. One woman commented to Thom, “I have no doubt that God used the preaching of his Word and the witnessing of his people to bring me to Jesus. But I never would have heard the message if I had not been thoroughly impressed with the quality of their facilities. I showed up at the church one Sunday to be there for my nephew’s baptism. One of the reasons I came back on my own was a sense that the church did everything with excellence, and it showed from the parking lot to the restrooms.”
I recognize that the onus is on us, the congregation, not the building, to make people feel important and cared for when they come to worship with us. But when we invest in our facility, it indicates to people the importance of what happens when we join together to worship the living God. Our goal is for someone to walk into Redeemer, look around and meet some people and realize that “something of significance is happening here.”
Sadly Short on Space
On any Sunday morning, if you peek into the children’s Sunday school classes you’ll see that they are all overcrowded. Our restrooms, too, are overcrowded, and the women’s restroom spills into the nursery drop off areas.
I would love for Redeemer to offer smaller adult Sunday school classes that encourage engagement and discussion. Actually, we would like to offer a variety of adult classes, but we had to re-purpose our one adult classroom for our 5th and 6th graders. We simply can’t cram them into one of our smaller classrooms, which are filled with children too.
Our youth meeting space in the modular unit (aka “junior”) is already too small for the whole group. Some of our youth have to step outside occasionally because the room can feel tight and stuffy and lead them to feel anxious.
These are just a few examples, but the point is that our current building is just too small to be welcoming.
From Nay to Yea
After thinking through these things, I now support expanding our building.
· Bigger facilities will enable us to help each other know and follow Jesus and love our neighbors, as we are commanded.
· The proposed building plans are a great fit to our setting in North Raleigh, and when we invest in our facility, people see that we are investing in what God is doing among us. It also shows that we care to make room for more people to come join with us.
· The proposed building will be a more inviting place where Christ followers can come to worship the Lord, where others can come investigate the claims of Christ, and where all can taste and see the beauty and excellence of our gracious God.
I have come to believe that giving towards the expansion of our facilities is a wise way to steward the resources God has given us. Yet, I don’t want anyone to give toward the building expansion who doesn’t agree. I certainly don’t want anyone to violate their conscience.
I have no intention to pressure you into giving, but I have written these things with the hope that it will help you think through your own involvement with Redeemer’s proposed building expansion.