The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not
live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed
anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.
--Acts 17:24-25 NIV
Let’s be clear about something. God isn’t confined to a church building. God is alive and at work everywhere in the world. Since the beginnings of Christianity until now, Christians have gathered in private homes, marketplaces and “down by the riverside.” If we aren’t careful, we can confuse a church building with God. It’s a dangerous habit of our mortal minds to confuse what is eternal with what is temporal.
I know of a church in the KC area that steadily declined in membership over the decades even though they had a nice church building. When their members grew too old and too few to maintain it, they chose to sell the building to another congregation. They made almost $1.5 million in the sale and could have used that money to restart the church in new ways, but they were too tired for such an effort. The building had ceased being a tool for ministry long ago, and without the building they felt they were no longer a church. We confuse being church with having a building all the time. The two are not the same.
Yet, church buildings, when understood in the right light, can be excellent tools to serve God’s children, both church members and non-members. Although we make church buildings an end unto themselves, they really are only a means to an end, namely showing God’s love to a world in need of it. This distinction between building as end in itself and building as tool to serve God and others is one of the greatest issues facing American Christianity today.
The good news for Park Hill Christian Church is that we have a good building that remains in relatively good shape. It sits at a great location and is accessible to people with disabilities. Yes, it takes money to maintain a building of this size, but those are the normal costs of owning real estate. The building is not facing structural collapse or in need of immense rehabilitation. It has the potential to be used much more than it normally is in non-COVID-19 times, and with the proper vision by church members it can be a wonderful tool for ministry to the community.
Compared with many congregations—maybe most congregations—including ones I have served in the past, Park Hill is in a good position building-wise. I am personally aware of dozens of churches who have building issues with repair costs far beyond what they can ever reasonably hope to repair. Unfortunately, most of those congregations will not be proactive about selling their property and using the proceeds to keep their church going. Instead they will “go down with the ship,” so to speak, because they have confused their church with their building. Park Hill doesn’t have to make that choice, at least not now.
A few weeks ago, you were mailed a letter informing you Rev. Dr. Larry Patterson, former minister of PHCC, will be back on Sunday, September 13. During Rev. Dr. Patterson’s time the church built the Life Center and named it in honor of him and his wife, Mary Ann. Now, the current PHCC Board chose to make this occasion an opportunity to make a bold request. They asked PHCC members and friends to pay off the remaining mortgage debt for the Life Center. If this can happen, PHCC will be in a strong position to move into the future.
It’s no secret that PHCC has like most churches a membership generally older in age. Most churches are not increasing their membership numbers and the funding which can come from more people. To the contrary, churches across the country are having to rethink what membership even means to a culture that no longer finds value in “joining” anything. So, if PHCC can pay off this debt, it means decreasing its expenses at just the right time. The money currently paying the mortgage can be used for building maintenance and ministry to the community. If this debt can be taken care of, PHCC will be in a far better position than most churches to move into a bright future.
The bright future of PHCC will depend, however, on more than removing the building debt. It also depends on church members using the building to serve the community rather than as a private club house. The PHCC Board has taken the input from the 40 Days of Prayer and Purpose and produced the idea of “Bold Hospitality.” Bold Hospitality means actively welcoming the community into our building as a means of service in the name of Jesus Christ. The beginning of this movement is happening as we open our building to groups serving adults with mental disabilities and another congregation that does not have its own building yet. Groups that can afford to pay rent will do so, and some who cannot afford it but who still meet unmet needs in the community will be provided the space as a part of our ministry. This is only the beginning of moving PHCC’s building from being just one more building people pass by as they go about their day into it being a site the community looks to for connection and purpose.
Step 1 in PHCC having a proper theology of its building is getting rid of the building debt in order to funnel its resources towards serving the community via its building. Step 2 is PHCC actively connecting its building to the work the Holy Spirit is already doing in our community. Remember, God is not confined to a building. God is already doing saving work all around our church’s location. We only need to make our building fully available to God and it will be used to change lives for the better.
If you are planning on being present on Sunday, September 13 to welcome back Rev. Dr. Larry Patterson, please send in your R.S.V.P. (Church leaders and Rev. Dr. Patterson fully understand that many who wish to be present cannot do so because of the risks of COVID-19.) Also, now is the time to make your contribution to paying off the mortgage for the Patterson Family Life Center. Unlike your usual contribution to the church’s operating budget which pays for staff, maintenance and outreach, 100% of funds given toward this goal will be applied to paying off the mortgage. PHCC stands ready to step into a bright future.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
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We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.