On the streets of Reading lives are being transformed; God is at work. Over the last few weeks, thousands of people have come to faith in Jesus and as word of this spreads, Christians are travelling to Reading from across the UK to find out what the church there is doing, getting involved and taking lessons learned back to their home churches.
On the streets of Coleraine, Northern Ireland people are being miraculously healed; God is at work. In the course of the last several years, thousands of people have come to faith in Jesus and Christians have traveled from far and wide to replicate this in their home towns and cities with equally amazing stories of lives changed and people healed.
The common factor to these exciting events is that the church has opened its doors, not to invite people in but to let the Christians out. The church has been let loose on the streets, taking risks, stepping out in faith and seeing God honour their faithfulness. This is the church fulfilling its commission to go into the world and make disciples.
Where does that leave our church buildings? Do they become redundant as we take to the streets and proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven at hand?
These two accounts exemplify Jesus’ ministry to demonstrate the Kingdom of God in signs and wonders and to preach the gospel. Jesus also also met the needs of the poor and this is where our buildings become invaluable resources.
Working as an architect designing and redesigning church buildings has caused me to reconsider my understanding of what a church building is. I appreciate the need for spaces to cater for the needs of church congregations gathering for worship, fellowship and teaching – this has been the focus of church building design in recent decades, even centuries – but there is a profound shift taking place in the UK as churches begin to engage with the real needs of the community around them. This is manifesting itself in the design of church buildings to properly resource the work and in turn, helping us reimagine church.
The Storehouse is a charity run by Aylesbury Vineyard. The church employ full and part-time staff and volunteers to run the charity and have dedicated 25% of their building to the impressive work. The Storehouse is meeting a very real and urgent need in the lives of over 2000 families in Aylesbury who struggle financially by collecting and distributing food, clothes, furniture, household appliances and baby equipment completely free of charge to anyone who has need.
There are very many examples of churches beginning to reimagine their buildings to resource initiatives that meet the needs of the community around them and, like Storehouse, these are game-changers for our understanding of church and our appreciation of good church architecture.
During a recent Sunday morning service, one of the Vineyard church leaders welcomed a guest: ‘Is this your first time with us?’ The answer was incredulous; ‘I’ve been coming here for six years!’ It was his first time at a Sunday service but he considered Storehouse his church.
We need to reimagine our understanding of church, get outside the walls and, once outside, look back and wrestle with the challenge of how to reinvest in our built assets for greatest impact in our local communities. When churches do this, they shatter the mould of church architecture, they create mission-shaped buildings and transform their communities, profoundly impacting the lives of countless people with the Gospel.