Hugh’s News & Views (“If You Build It . . .)

“IF YOU BUILD IT THEY WILL COME”

The title is the popular adaptation of a quote from the movie “Field of Dreams,” released in 1989. The original statement was, “If you build it he will come,” and came from a voice in a “vision” that Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) had while walking in an Iowa cornfield. The voice said that if Ray would build a baseball diamond in the cornfield, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, an old baseball player who Kinsella idolized, would come. This is the essence of the “vision” and the origin of the quote, but it has now been 30 years since I saw the movie, which I remember as a good one.

The quote has become a metaphor for building something that will attract people to it. Businesses believe “if we build it they will come.” Churches also “buy into” this philosophy. That a church needs a place to meet is logically inferred (Hebrews 10:24-25), but where a church meets is a matter of judgment and expediency. There was a time when church buildings were simple, modest, and functional. In time, they tended to become large and ostentatious, appealing to the fleshly pride of the members.

In more recent times, it has become popular for churches, including churches of Christ, to be driven by competition for members and to think that in order to grow they must build facilities that will attract young families and children. A few decades a new “rage” began to show itself in churches of Christ as many of them began to build “Multi-Purpose Buildings” (aka gymnasiums) in an effort to attract and hold young people, especially teenagers. Some of these facilities rivaled the local YMCA in what they had to offer by way of physical activities. Some churches even hired personnel to oversee the operation and use of the facilities. Such buildings became status symbols and preachers were proud to let others know that “we have a fully equipped gymnasium,” and to take people on a tour of their facility and show what the congregation had to “offer” their members, prospective members, and members of the community. It was believed that if a church had a Multi-Purpose Building (gym) with all the accoutrements they were bound to grow. “If we build it they will come” became the mindset and the mantra. It was a “supermarket” approach to Christianity in which churches sought to meet all the “felt needs” of their members and their communities.

Did it work? Perhaps in some instances… at least for a while, until the novelty wore off or the people found another church that had something different and better and more appealing to offer. Today, there are churches of Christ with huge facilities that are “dying on the vine” who nevertheless had bought into the notion, “If we build it they will come.” Churches now have large auditoriums (sanctuaries, worship centers [I never cease to be amused at the ingenious terms some preachers can come up with to describe the place where the church meets for worship]), large classroom complexes, and huge Multi-Purpose Buildings, but the membership has declined and the congregation has become only a “shell” of its old self and now just “rattles around” in the facilities. I suspect that there are some elders who, if they could reverse an earlier decision as to “what” and “how much” to build, they would gladly do so!

Am I saying that it is wrong for churches to build Multi-Purpose Buildings? Not at all! Each congregation is autonomous under its own elders (Philippians 1:1; I Peter 5:1-4). The elders of each local church must decide what will be the most effective way to advance the cause of Christ in their local community and the wisest way to use the financial resources provided by the members. But what may be advantageous facility-wise to the growth and development of one congregation may not be advantageous to the growth and development of another congregation, nor may it reflect the wisest use of financial resources. At best, no church should think that “if we build it they will come”! As has been demonstrated time and again, it does not always work that way.

It has been my observation over the years that the construction of these kinds of facilities often represents a tragic change in a church’s focus from an outward, evangelistic emphasis, to an inward, “meet my needs” emphasis. The members want these facilities for their own enjoyment, so they are constructed. Yet, the key to the growth of the church is the gospel of Christ, not the meeting of fleshly appetites (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Romans 1:16). Read the New Testament book of Acts and see what the churches of the first century did in order to grow. Has the gospel lost any of its power?

If churches would put as much money into the teaching and preaching of the gospel in their local communities (including the training of their members to do such work) and ministering to the poor and needy (Galatians 2:10) as some of them put into physical facilities to cater to their fleshly appetites, we might just again see the church growing by leaps and bounds as it did in the first century and as it did in the early decades of the movement to restore original, apostolic Christianity.

Hugh Fulford
July 2, 2019

Speaking Schedule:

  • July 10, 17, 24: Nashville Road Church of Christ, Gallatin, TN
  • July 14, 28: Adams Avenue Church of Christ, Lebanon, TN (a.m. only)

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