I visited with a friend at a track meet last week. Her opinion on the question left little doubt. She had grown up attending the “Church on the Hill” before it became Toledo Christian Fellowship (TCF). When she asked how things were going at the church, I explained that the church building was no longer being used. “What?” she asked, evidently troubled. “Why? what happened?” I explained how a crisis over my views on evolution had led to the demise of the fellowship as it had existed.
[About a year ago, I briefly described this crisis. You can read that recounting here].
By now, those TCF families who found my views intolerable have settled into other local churches. We're still friends. The remaining TCF families continue to fellowship together informally, but we now meet in homes.
With the exception of a couple of finance meetings, and a few informal worship times, TCF has not met formally in the building for 6 months or more. The property is currently for sale. We hope to use the proceeds of the sale to finance missions projects around the world, projects which the fellowship has historically supported. The proceeds might fund a permanent endowment for missions, or we may place the funds directly into the hands of friends in places like Liberia, southeast Africa, and Cambodia.
When I explained to my friend the current state of affairs at T.C.F., it made little difference to her that most of TCF continues to fellowship, and frequently gathers in homes. She was stunned to learn that the property was for sale! It made little difference to her when I explained that the sale proceeds would continue the mission of the Kingdom of God around the world. For her, the closing-down of a church building, the very church building which for her held so many childhood memories, was unthinkable, a horrible step in the wrong direction.
This set me to wondering how the readers of this blog might view “closing the doors” of a conventional church building in America.
I have read that there are over 450,000 churches in the United States. If 400,000 of these churches own buildings, and if those buildings average $500,000 in value (both conservative estimates, I think) we can calculate the dollar value tied up in the churches in America at $200 billion. The actual amount is likely higher than that, probably much higher! When we add to this capital fund lock up the cash flow required to maintain those churches (the tithes and offerings of American Christians), the American church invests heavily in its own properties. And frankly, little is left over for the support of Christian missions in less fortunate corners of the world. A recent survey in Christianity Today indicated that churches give approximately 2% of their budgets to missions in foreign lands. What percentage do those same churches spend on mortgages, and upkeep and maintenance of their buildings?
I wonder how those figures compare to the fast growing church in China, now estimated to be larger than the church in the United States.
What about it, readers? Is it a lamentable shame that the United States will have one less church building? Is it a bad thing that the property will likely be added to the tax rolls to the benefit of our local taxing districts? Is it a misfortunate turn of events that several hundred thousand dollars of church capital may soon be reallocated to benefit churches in the third-world?
What if 200,000 church buildings in America were liquidated tomorrow? Would this negatively impact the health of Christianity in America? or might it be a good thing? What if the proceeds were scattered around the world to various mission projects? Anyone care to speculate on the potential impact of $100 billion or more into endowments for and direct aid to the third-world church?