Churches without the church
Foreclosures have forced some churches to meet in homes or cafes. Now, others are joining in – willingly.
When Barry Diamond first told fellow ministers that his Las Vegas church was preparing to leave its 12,000-square-foot rental space in April and worship instead in members' homes, they warned him he was "committing ministry suicide."Skip to next paragraph
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But Pastor Diamond and The Village, as his nondenominational church is known, have survived. Fifteen homes now hold intimate services twice a month. On other Sundays, they dip into funds previously earmarked for rent and use them for special events and outreach, such as a May block party for local African refugees. Now other church leaders want to know how they might follow suit.
"I don't know if we uncovered a model that people are longing for or what," Diamond says. "But I have six appointments over the next three or four weeks with [church leaders] who are flying into Las Vegas just to meet and talk about it."
Leaving a building with no plans for a new one used to be a hallmark of a failed congregation. In this recession, however, a growing number of hard-hit churches are struggling to pay rents and mortgages. That has some thinking about the formerly unthinkable: being a church without a building – and they are getting encouragement from building-free congregations who wouldn't have it any other way.
Since the economic downturn began, six financially stressed churches in various states have sought advice from The Well in California's Orange County. It's a 57-year-old Southern Baptist congregation that quit its $5,000-per-month lease in 2005 and formed what has become a network of five house churches. Sensing a need among financially strapped churches, Pastor Ken Eastburn in April launched a website – leavethe buildingblog.com – to assure struggling churches there's spiritual life after bricks and mortar.
"We didn't really start out encouraging churches to do this, but people who would hear our story started to contact us over the last year," says Pastor Eastburn, whose church has grown from 50 to 75 members since leaving its rented facility. "If this model is something that works, and if we can help other churches [adopt it], then maybe this is what God has us doing right now."
Churches that are partially or entirely building-free come in a variety of forms:
•The one-year-old Origin Community Church meets in a Rocklin, Calif., coffeehouse. Childcare happens in a retrofitted school bus and a motor home parked outside.
•Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, Calif., is saving millions of dollars by expanding into an outdoor amphitheater rather than a new building.