Friday, August 19, 2005

Building Social Ministries Instead of Sanctuaries

Two weeks ago, I posted a link to a column by Marvin Olasky on how a church chose to help a community in Africa rather than build a bigger place to worship. In his column this week, Olasky shares the story of a church in Leesburg, Florida, that also decided not to build a larger sanctuary: . . .

Located about an hour's drive northwest of Orlando on a main street that also boasts a McDonald's, Subway and Ace Hardware, the First Baptist Church of Leesburg (pop. 15,596) sports a standard denominational look: columned portico, steeple and lots of people -- an average attendance of 2,200 during the winter and 1,400 during the summer.

By the early 1990s, some church members wanted to build a larger sanctuary so the church would not need two (now three) worship services on Sunday morning. Senior pastor Charles Roesel, though, insisted that the church should spend the money on building a Ministry Village with homes for abused children, battered women and men who wanted to turn their lives around, along with a free medical clinic and other facilities to help the needy.

Since Roesel had been preaching about such "ministry evangelism" for a decade, church members embraced his vision and donated $2 million to construct seven buildings smack by the steepled church. (Some churches want their ministries of compassion to be geographically separate from and financially unequal to their worship functions, but First Baptist supports Christ's teaching that loving our neighbor belongs in the same sentence as loving God.)

So has this emphasis on social ministries inhibited the church's ability to evangelize and grow? Olasky reports:

Before the new focus, the church added about 30 members a year through baptism, with new members typically the children or relatives of those already in the church. Now (to use one measurement of growth), the church regularly baptizes 200 to 300 persons each year.

Overall, the church and ministries budget has increased from $180,000 annually in 1979 to $5.5 million now. Sixty percent of the budget goes for the ministries in their seven buildings and for a Christian school.

Should churches follow First Baptist in Leesburg's example of embracing social ministries, or should they stick to worship and let other agencies handle them?

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