Church Facilities and First Impression

I have visited churches that don’t take pride in their buildings. After all, a church is not the building, but the people. As a result, the building is allowed to deteriorate into disrepair; the paintwork peeling off; entrances, ministry rooms and the main worship hall cluttered with all kinds of stuff (wanted and unwanted); and the grounds left unkempt.

This is particularly evident of churches that use rented shop lots (and in Malaysia, they make up a good majority). As the premises don’t belong to them there may be little ownership and motivation to keep the place in good condition. There is even less sense of responsibility for the common areas, such as the corridors; and public areas, like the five-foot way. I have been to churches where throwaways (by other tenants) were stuffed under the staircase leading to the church in the upper floors, unsightly debris along the five-foot way, and the only-to-be-found-in-Malaysia heinous Ah Long stickers plastered all over the external walls of the buildings.

I am not suggesting that church buildings have to be lavishly done up, but they must at least be smart and the facilities be in good-working condition. The surroundings do not have to be in manicured-condition but it must at least be clean and neat.

Why is it so important to keep church premises presentable? Because it shapes a  visitor’s first impression of the church. Consciously or unconsciously the following questions will be swirling around in his mind, and what he sees will inevitably lead him to make certain deductions about the church.

1. Are the people proud of their church?

A poorly-kept facility is an indicator that the members have an indifferent attitude towards their church.

A well-kept facility tells a visitor that the people are proud of their church and that they like their church.

2. Is the church serious about drawing in new people?

A poorly-kept facility is an indicator that the church couldn’t-care-less what outsiders think about the church.

A well-kept facility says that the church is concerned about providing an environment that is welcoming to visitors. They want, at the very least, to give their visitors a good first impression of their church.

3. Is “good quality” a value of the church?

A poorly-kept facility is an indicator that “good quality” is not a value of the church. If it cannot be seen in the care of its premises, it is unlikely that quality will be valued in other areas of the church’s life and ministry.

A well-kept facility is a sign that the church values “good quality”—in everything; with everything they have and in everything they do. I believe you will be hard-pressed to find a church with good quality ministries but whose building and facilities are out of whack through indifference.

4. Can I happily engage in worship in this church environment?

A poorly-kept facility, especially in the main worship hall, will put most visitors off from worship. The environment matters! If it is not conducive for worship because of clutter and peeling paint (and maybe odour) it is not going to encourage a visitor to return.

On the other hand, walking through a pleasant environment and into an equally or even more pleasant worship hall will enhance a visitor’s engagement in worship. This will certainly give him positive vibes.

5. If I am looking for a church, do I want to come back for a second look?

A well-kept facility may not be the deciding factor for a visitor, whether he would come back for a second visit or, for that matter, to join the church. However, a poorly-kept facility will guarantee that a visitor will not come back for second look!

If you are a pastor or church leader, let me encourage you to take some time this week to do a church facility audit.


Dealing with Your Church History

Has your church experienced a season when everything seems to be going really well, and then—Boom!—something happens? It could be sudden or gradual, and the church starts to reel and loses its spiritual dynamism and momentum.

That problem may be a conflict within the leadership or between the leaders and the members. It may be fear, as members are called not only to accept change but to change as the church ventures into new “territories” of ministry. Perhaps, it is financial sacrifices they are challenged to make as the church embarks on enlarging its facilities to accommodate its growth. The problem could even be marital unfaithfulness especially of someone at the primary leadership, such as the pastor or elder.

However, when the leadership starts to deal with the problem they discover that a similar problem had happened before. Maybe, not only just once before; perhaps, even a few times. The situations may be different in the details but you can’t miss the similarities between the past and present episodes. If I may be permitted to be a little melodramatic, it would be the case of: Different actors but the same story line!

What usually happens is that the church will deal with the presenting problem. If it’s a conflict in the leadership, then it will deal with the parties concerned to bring clarity, forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. (The honest truth is that even this is often not done; most times it is simply swept under the church carpet!)

Doing the above is good; but, not good enough—if the present issue is just the latest in a series of a same type-problem that has manifested itself over and over through the history of the church. The problem needs to be addressed at its root. It may be spiritual, structural or systemic. It could be due to the culture, values or practices of the church. Likely, it is a combination of two or more.

Certainly, the spiritual dimension must never be overlooked. Corporate prayer is critical. Corporate repentance beyond the present issue and into past episodes and how they have been inadequately addressed (or not addressed at all) is needed. And finally, a deliberate change in the corporate mind-set of the church to live and work in the opposite spirit needs to be affirmed.

I know of a church that has gone into its history and made right what had been wrong, and since then, for many years now, it has been making good progress. And I also know of churches that have not been willing to address the issues that have been etched in its history, and so continue to be weighed down by the spiritual consequences.

All churches hope to do well and make great advance for the Kingdom of God. They may embark on all kinds of programmes and work at reviving the church. However, if they fail to realise that the history of the church plays a vital part in the present health or ill health of a church they will not go far. If there is an unaddressed pattern of sin, it will forever plague the church. No matter what strategy the leadership uses to move the church forward, this problem will come back to kill it.

I believe every church needs to look at its history; and see if there’s anything it needs to address—to set it free to be the church that the Lord has destined it to be.

Health Check

I could have died long before I reached three-score years and ten. Worse, I could have become a vegetable lying in bed waiting to die. A health check showed that I had two arteries blocked at 90%. I had no symptoms of heart problems, and if not for my wife’s insistence for a health test when I turned 50, I would have just ignorantly carried on until it was too late.

stethoscope_and_heartshapedChurches, like individuals, also need to have a health check. A church that is not doing well might be oblivious of it. There may not be any clear indicative symptoms. Maybe the leaders are blind to them, or in denial. Perhaps they are too close to the situation to see the problems, or their vested interests prevent them from doing so.

Over a span of 30 years in the pastoral ministry, I have observed that most of our churches are not healthy. Furthermore, pastors and church leaders do not do a health check to determine the condition of their church. Most have never thought of it. Some don’t want to. They may not say it, but they don’t want to “face the brutal facts”.

(An excerpt from Before ER: A Call to Church Health by Lim Soon Hock)