In your mind make a list of what you need to start a church. Just think big and general for a second. You’re probably going to come up with the two things that I thought of when I did this exercise.
The two things I thought of were
- Some money
- A building
Right? I mean, you need cash to actually do anything to begin with, but you also have to have a place for the people to gather.
My thinking was challenged when I approached a better understanding of what “church” is all about, anyway. At the same time, I was giving thought to cultural differences between churches and global efforts where money and buildings are nonexistent or unobtainable. Biblically, there seems to be just two things needed to start a church, but they aren’t the two that I originally thought of.
- People, not money. We tend to throw around the word “church” so much that the word is deprived of its earth-shaking explosiveness. “Church” refers not to something we do (activities, meetings, messages), nor somewhere we go (a building, home, etc.), but something that we are. Some pastors are ditching the traditional term “church” in lieu of a phrase that more accurately captures the biblical essence described by the word (e.g., “faith family”). The church is people. More specifically, the church is the body and bride of Christ, comprised of people throughout all nations and ages. The “local church” is a chronological and geographical slice of this universal church, but it is still people, not a brick-and-mortar piece of architecture. Without people, there is no church. Without money, there can be a church. The first thing you need to start a church is people. There are quite a few of those available. And they are priceless.
- Faith community, not a building. If you’re going to start a church, you need somewhere to meet, right? Well, of course. But again, the place is of far less importance than the people. Although I meet with my church on Sunday morning, I also meet with them on a weekday evening—in a home. The place is not essential to who we are. We are a faith community. The term “faith” describes what holds us together—a core truth, a transformed identity, a common passion. The term “community” describes the solidarity and unity we possess as faith people. Community is not something we have to manufacture. Christ has already accomplished it for us through his life, death, and resurrection. Rather than get hung up on what style of worship music you’ll choose, or the kind of auditorium atmosphere you should create, focus on something more important—your content, substance, creed.
Any pastor has his wish list: a bigger building, more money, wealthy young urbanites, and an all-star pastoral staff. Any church planter wants to start his “new church” bank account with a few million bucks to put to good use. Obviously, there are certain things that are important when starting a church. Money and a building are definitely important.
But they are not essential.
The misconception that church equals buildings and cash is a misconception that warps the entire church planting operation before it’s even started. A church is built on one Person, and comprised of other persons, and that’s pretty much all you need.
And notice, I said “need.”