Church Buildings: a few potted plants or a forest?

Jesus commanded us to preach the gospel of the kingdom to all nations and to make disciples. He did not command us to construct church buildings.

The only “church building” we see in the New Testament was the Jerusalem temple courts where the believers met.

Acts 5:42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

Then something highly significant took place in Acts 8 following the martyrdom of Stephen.

Acts 8:1 And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.

Why did God allow this terrible persecution which resulted in the believers being scattered and no longer able to gather together to worship the Lord and be taught in the temple courts?

Perhaps the believers wanted to continue enjoying the comfort zone of worshiping God and being taught in the familiar confines of the Jerusalem Temple. And it was very convenient for them to go from house to house in their home town of Jerusalem to proclaim the gospel.

But Jesus had commanded them to preach the gospel not only in Jerusalem, but after that in Judea, Samaria and then unto the ends of the earth. Being human, it was natural for them to forget the Great Commission, staying in Jerusalem as one big family to worship God within the warm confines of the temple courts.

And what was the result of the persecution and subsequent scattering of the disciples?

Acts 8:4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there.

After being scattered in all directions they could of course no longer meet together in the Jerusalem temple courts. As Jesus had commanded them, they began to preach the gospel wherever they had been scattered.

After this there is no more mention of “church buildings” in the New Testament. Believers rather met in house churches which could easily multiply—as they have done in China.

Building a church facility is like planting and confining a tree to grow in a pot. As the tree inevitably grows, you keep moving the tree to successively bigger pots. Is this a good approach if you want to grow a forest? Of course not. Let us seriously consider this analogy.

In obedience to Christ’s Great Commission, we want to preach the gospel and extend the kingdom of God to all nations. We want to proclaim and plant the gospel everywhere in the whole world. But if we put up a church building in a certain area, the growth of the gospel will be limited mostly to the area where the building sits. Constructing a church moreover will take up much, much time, effort, and fund-raising on the part of the pastor. Servants of God are not called to that. But having a church facility will inevitably cause him to focus his ministry within the four walls of the church. His ministry will consist mostly of programs and meetings he holds inside his church. Sadly, that is what “Christianity” has become in the America and the West.

Then when physical expansion of his facility becomes necessary as the congregation grows—which is “moving the tree to a bigger pot”—more time-consuming effort will be required by the pastor, again taking away from his calling of feeding the sheep and taking care of the Lord’s lambs. So what about having different campuses each with its own facility in order to extend the reach of the gospel? That will result in similar time-consuming challenges and disadvantages for each campus. If we have six campuses we’ll have six pots each holding a tree. Shouldn’t we rather have a forest of trees, thus obeying the Great Commission?

But extending the kingdom of God by planting and multiplying house churches is akin to sowing and planting a forest outside in an open field. There’s no need for fund-raising and hiring an architect, a contractor, subcontractors, etc. The servant of God spends his time and energy going from house to house, teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. He trains other disciples to shepherd the house churches which will multiply naturally—just like trees in a forest. There is no “pot” to limit the growth and spread of the forest. There will be no limit to the growth of the body of Christ.

During these Last Days, let us follow the pattern we see in the New Testament regarding the question of building churches. Are we called to plant sickly trees limited in their growth and spread to a few man-made pots, or in open fields prepared by God for us to plant and to fill with mighty oaks for the gospel?

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