Many of you reading this know that we are looking into expanding our sanctuary by pushing the wall that divides it from the fellowship hall east, leaving a short hallway entrance into the sanctuary along the east wall. We have been pretty full Sunday mornings, and this would add 45+ seats. We should receive plans back from the architect this week.

As we consider how to move forward, I wanted to share some thoughts on the options before us and how we are thinking through them. One option would be to add a second service. A second service would cost much less (at least financially) than other options. A second service would allow us to fit more people and reach more people, and with more people come more resources and more opportunities.

For a variety of reasons, the elders don’t see a second service as a desirable option, except if necessary for a limited time (more on this below).

Another option would be to find a bigger space. The problem is there just aren’t any around. The Foursquare Church looked unsuccessfully for a bigger space for 6+ years, and finally ended up buying the hardware store next to them when it became available. Furthermore, we’ve already put a ton of work into making this current space our own, and to fit out needs.

Another option would be to do nothing, and not attempt to increase seating or allow the church to grow.

Given these realities of our situation, we think it is worth at least seriously considering expanding the seating limits of our current space, even though this would cost us financially. Here are some of the reasons, some of which are drawn from Jonathan Leeman’s book One Assembly, which the elders recently read.

  1. Moving to two services comes with significant effects, even if it seems pragmatically valuable. You essentially split into two churches (Leeman argues that biblically, you do have two churches when you go to two services). You no longer worship in song all together, hear and respond to God’s word preached all together, or celebrate the Lord’s body and blood shed for us all together. While you might sing the same songs and hear essentially the same message, you don’t do it physically present with one another. In our world of virtual meetings and online “church” this may not seem like a big deal, but when we no longer physically gather as “one assembly” with a church body, we begin to see and think about church differently (and eventually, online “church” can seem like the logical next step!).
  2. One of the points that Leeman makes is that a move to two (or more) services (or locations) puts more emphasis on the leadership, and especially the main preaching pastor. The act of physically gathering together is now less a unifying factor than the guy preaching up front. Authority shifts, even if only in perception, from the congregation to the leadership that binds the services (or locations) together. Personally, as the main preaching pastor of this church, this scares me! I don’t think it’s healthy for one individual to be the unifying factor in a church, and think we should be careful to guard against this.
  3. There is a difference between pursing numerical growth (more people, more resources, more opportunities), and responding to the growth that God brings. If numerical growth was the greatest priority AND it was something we ourselves could produce, then two services would be the best option. But what we are after is true spiritual growth (both in new converts and in maturing believers), and Scripture is clear that we are ultimately dependent on God for such fruit (“So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth”—1 Cor. 3:7). We are delighted and humbled when God bears fruit through our efforts as a church. We are excited when he brings people to the church, and brings us to people who need the hear the gospel. We should want to be able to welcome them in, and have enough seats for them on a Sunday morning. This is why the option of doing nothing seems unwise at this point, and why we are considering expanding. But in light of the previous and following points, this does not mean we should seek to numerically grow the church, at whatever cost, through whatever means.
  4. The fact that there are other healthy, gospel-preaching, disciple-making churches in our area should guard us against over-prioritizing the growth of “our” church alone. We should be happy that some people who check out our church end up at other churches. We should celebrate the work God is doing at other churches. Especially if we are bumping up against space limits here, we should be willing to consider joining forces to plant a church, sending people to help revitalize struggling churches, or simply recommending other healthy churches in the area.  
  5. Finally, a few biblical arguments for staying one service (even if it means expanding), rather than moving to two services. First of all, the word used to refer to the church in the NT (ekklesia) means assembly. It envisions people gathering together, physically. And when the Bible talks about the local church, it talks about it as a people who gather together (Acts 14:27; 1 Cor. 11:18, 33; 1 Cor. 14:23). Secondly, in Matthew 18:20, Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” This comes right after a discussion about the church, where Jesus uses the word for church. This verse is not just about anytime Christians get coffee together; this is about Christians gathering as a church. And it implies that physically gathering in space and time together matters: “gathered…there…among”. These are words about physically being together. Leeman notes: “The gathering represents him, speaks for him, flies his flag…The church gathering is where Christ’s kingdom becomes visible and active…by visible I mean you can literally see it, hear it, touch it. By active I mean we officially and publicly speak for the kingdom’s sake.” There is significance in sitting under God’s word together, in singing worship together, in proclaiming Christ’s death in communion together. We are giving witness in doing this. We are encouraging one another as we do this. We are setting the context for accountability and support as we do this.

Because we are a congregational church, because we believe that “the church” is not the leadership or pastor, but the congregants who make up the church, I want to let you in on the conversations and convictions of the elders. And I invite you to provide feedback as well. If we decide to move forward and pursue expanding the sanctuary (and adding a bathroom, per code), this would be a significant decision, with financial implications. So I encourage you to think and pray through this. Consider what it means to be a church, what God calls us to as a church, and what it means to gather together as a church, as we do on Sundays. And be praying for God to continue to use us in these communities, and bear good fruit in and through us.

Pastor Derek