Church construction in the
U.S. has fallen 80% since 2002, now
at its lowest level since record-keeping began in 1967, according to reporting in
this newspaper. The $3.15 billion in spending on religious buildings is half
the level of a decade ago. Several factors are contributing to the declines,
including postrecession financial challenges—religious giving has never
returned to its 2007 peak—and the waning of religious affiliation.
$3.15 billion spent on religious buildings. Let me say that again:
That is incredible. I don't mean incredible in a positive way. The rest of the article is pretty interesting, especially the second paragraph:
Yet even as church construction ebbs, church congregations are sprouting more rapidly than ever—about 4,000 annually, according to estimates by the nonprofit Leadership Network’s Warren Bird. Ed Stetzer, who has been studying the movement for 25 years and now directs LifeWay Research, estimates that growth has doubled or tripled in two decades. Most of these new congregations are renting facilities from schools, community centers or other churches.
While that is encouraging, I still I can't get over that number and I already knew it was something in that neighborhood. Even in a day and age of annual trillion dollar budget deficits that is a big number. I don't need to go through the exercise of pointing out what that kind of money could accomplish in actual ministries that reach the lost and the needy rather than paying for a building that gets used a couple of hours a week. I will say again that we need some serious soul-searching and a reexamination of our priorities because that number is ridiculous and perhaps blasphemous.
There are probably lots of people who see that number shrinking as a bad thing. We need revival, we aren't spending nearly enough on new church buildings! Only $3.15 billion, we need to take back America for Jesus! This is the same mentality that sees any suggestion of reduced government transfer payments as a failure of Christian discipleship.
I don't have a huge issue with having a building in general. A modest, simple, inexpensive permanent place can be beneficial. A local Mennonite congregation we enjoy visiting has a building that is very utilitarian and is paid for, hosts a school and recently did a renovation with most of the labor provided by members. I have no problem with that, better a congregation with orthodox beliefs that meets in a permanent building than a heterodox group that meets in a home. What irks me is the idea that spending money on a building is equated with faithfulness. Even more so the guilt and fear inducing tactics used to extort money from the faithful to build these things. I am encouraged to see so many gatherings seeking alternative methods of meeting than insisting on purchasing a building but there is a long way to go to get the perverse Constantinian-American success combined model out of the church.
What do you think when you see numbers like that being spent on religious buildings? What do you think the world thinks?