Article: Form Follows Mission

Buildings Are Temporary
Your building is barely a speck on the line of eternity. It will fall down. It will leak. The carpet will wear out, door handles will break, windows will crack, stair handrails will accumulate nasty greasy human hand crud, cracks will appear in the sidewalk, paint will peel, ‘stuff’ will get jammed into every nook and cranny, and old bits of tape will remain stuck to the walls… Sound familiar? It should! This is a common worldwide condition brought on by sin. Everything is falling apart around us! We hope our buildings won’t fall down any time soon; but in the light of eternity, they will last only a moment. Your building is a faint speck on the long, uninterrupted line of eternity.
“But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.” - Matthew 6:20
The Church is Eternal
A “Church” is not a building or a social gathering. It is common to refer to our local building as, “The Church”. How utterly shortsighted! The church is the glorious bride of Christ, consisting of people who love Jesus, worship Him, and repeat His love and forgiveness to each other and the world. God uses churches to accomplish eternal purposes. A biblical church exists, “on the line”. It matters for time and eternity!
“…as also Christ is the head of the church – he himself being the savior of the body.” - Ephesians 5:23
Temporal Buildings for Eternal Purposes!
Similarly, to the extent that your building helps you accomplish God’spurposes, it will matter. Your building is a speck, but it can be an important tool to help your church make a difference "for the line" of eternity. It can also be a stumbling block that can prevent you accomplishing everything God has for you. To the extent your building helps or hinders your eternal impact, your building matters (or doesn’t) for eternity.
“I also know that whatever God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken away from it. God has made it this way, so that men will fear him. Whatever exists now has already been, and whatever will be has already been; for God will seek to do again what has occurred in the past.” – Ecclesiastes 3:14,15
Therefore, our primary task must be to wrap the design of your building around the mission God has for your church. Form Follows Mission! If this building is God’s work, that work will endure forever. So buildings don’t matter. And yet they can be eternally important.
"For no one can lay any foundation other than what is being laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire. Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If someone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, which is what you are." - 1 Cor 3:11-17
Know Your Mission
When it comes to buildings, believe it or not, churches can be very difficult to understand! Maybe you’re laughing right now because this is all too familiar. In fact, our church clients often don’t understand themselves. On the topic of buildings, churches often have a mild case of schizophrenia. We care about our buildings but simultaneously disdain them. We rely on them every day yet wish we didn’t need them. We say to our friends, “meet me at the church”, but we know it isn’t the “Church”! We spend loads of money on them, but are embarrassed that we aren’t spending more on missions. We are conflicted.

This is a natural (but unnecessary) phenomenon. It is rooted in the schism between temporal and eternal. The Church matters for eternity, but your building is a temporal thing. Ultimately it is a ‘thing’ that doesn’t last, but that ‘thing’ could be critically important to accomplishing your eternal mission. What we desperately need is to clarify our thinking about the role buildings play in eternity.

Before you embark on this journey you need to get over that confusion and know exactly what your mission is as a church and what your building can (and can’t) do to help you accomplish that mission. Your God-given mission for this building should be wrapped around your God-given mission as a church. Resolve never to lose sight of that mission. If your church doesn't have a mission statement already, now would be a good time to develop one. If you don’t get this part right, your building won't be any help to you. In fact, we can virtually guarantee that the building process will take you some place you didn't want to be, and leave you with a building you didn't need or want. You’ll be much poorer and have little of eternal value to show for your earthly investment.

A Spiritual Pro-Forma
In the business world we use the term “pro-forma”. A pro-forma is simply a financial projection that models anticipated results of an investment. A good business person always thinks in terms of investment vs. profit, or risk vs. reward. They don’t build a hotel because it improves the skyline; they do it to make money. They are so focused on this goal that they invest great time and effort (and money) into ‘running the numbers’, producing a pro-forma that simulates financial scenarios and projects results into the future. The wise investor considers his situation carefully and observes trends closely. Ultimately he considers the risk, measures the potential reward, and takes action.
“The one who had received five talents went off right away and put his money to work and gained five more.” - Matthew 25:16
Your building program should have an intrinsically spiritual goal with eternal rewards. If you’re going to accomplish your mission, it stands to reason that it should be clearly stated and consistent with your church’s overall mission. It might read something like, “Our building project will help us accomplish our God-given mission of ‘Reaching Up, Reaching In, and Reaching Out’ by increasing our worship capacity, providing space that will enhance our fellowship, and broadcasting a welcoming image to our community.”

“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church; worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn't  Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.” - John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad
Kevin Costner Syndrome
“If you build it they will come.” It would be easy to tell you that this isn’t true, but it is. If you build a new facility, more people will probably be interested to see what you’re all about, ‘kick the tires’ so to speak. We have seen this phenomenon consistently. But, to extend the metaphor, if your tires are flat, they won’t stay! Construction without vision will neither grow your church nor glorify Christ.

Should We Invest in a Building?
There are not very many reasons that a church should embark on a building project. Sadly, most churches begin a building project for the wrong reasons. There are only two good reasons that occur to us:
  • Reason 1: Only if there is an eternal return.  Any modern building represents a tremendous investment of financial, emotional, and time resources. Therefore, you should analyze this question as you would any investment, but with eternal returns in mind. Just like a businessman, you must remain focused on your pro-forma.But, unlike a businessman, you don’t have to gamble because your church is called to invest in eternity and is guaranteed an eternal reward. You have something unheard of in the business world: guaranteed returns! All that is left is to discern God’s calling and wisely follow the path forward.
    • “I do all these things because of the gospel, so that I can be a participant in it. Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win. Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.”– 1 Corinthians 9:23-26
  • Reason 2: Only if God wants you to build.  The only way we know for you to find the answer to this question is to ask Him! We suspect that if there is an eternal return on your investment, God is probably in it. But ask Him all the same! Don’t assume that just because something makes sense to you, it is what God wants you to do.
    • “The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.” – James 5:16
Do We Have To Invest In a Building?
NO!!! A building might be exactly the wrong investment! The Lord has plans for you and they may not include a building.
“Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.” – Romans 12:2
Many churches, especially young church plants, are deathly afraid of turning a building into an idol. That’s a fair concern. Ironically, they often go too far, creating an idol out of NOT HAVING a building! Fear should never be a motivating factor for a mature Christian.
“For everything there is an appointed time, and an appropriate time for every activity on earth: …A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones;” – Ecc 3:1,5a
Scripture quoted by permission from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C.www.bible.orgAll rights reserved.

About the Authors...
Peter Schwartz is responsible for driving professional excellence and helping clients find clarity in the otherwise messy creative process. His primary pursuit, professional and personal is to serve the Body of Christ. Pete is an active leader in his church where he utilizes his gifts in teaching and leadership. He is a gifted communicator in both large and small group formats.

Brian Van Winkle drives creative excellence and guards technical quality at Vessel. He has passionately used his skills in architecture to serve churches since 1997. After obtaining his architectural degree from KU, he worked as an architect and received a Masters in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary to be better equipped to serve churches.