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29 July 2014

When temporary tents are no longer sufficient

When temporary tents are no longer sufficient

By Jim Hammett

As churches grow they may have to assess whether their meeting place is fit for purpose. Sometimes the time comes when a building will no longer serve the ministry and the community into the future, or a temporary home is no longer sufficient.

I belong to a group of Christians in the rapidly expanding area of south west Milton Keynes who began to feel ten years ago the need to build a church-run facility to impact their local community.

At this point we had been meeting for 12 years under the name of Shenley Christian Fellowship. Numbers had grown to about 200 and we were on our fourth or fifth different meeting location.

Five different local schools used on a Sunday had been great, but it was the pressure to stabilise the weekday outreach work that really galvanised the church into taking action. We felt a lack of internal identity was giving a fragmented external image.

Starting to consider a multi-million pound building is a daunting challenge. It proved to be more like a lengthy journey. A roller coaster ride of faith-filled moments of excitement, despair, fatigue and elation.

The journey is not just about bricks and mortar, money and designs, but a journey of asking fundamental questions about the purpose of the church in the local community. How will the people and the building express the vision in decades to come? How can we balance evangelism and social action? How can one building not only sustain existing ministry but be flexible enough to allow for the needs of outreach in 2030?

Starting with a community survey - knocking on every one of the 1,156 doors in the community, asking questions about their thoughts, what they needed, how it could be met and whether they had prayer needs (a staggering 25 per cent said they did).

This led to three new ministries being established in the community that still operate today. It led to a recognition that some of the needs could not be met through hired premises. It also showed that many locals didn't see how all the activities linked together and were organised by one group of local people that were their 'local church'.

The search for land, designs, fundraising, working with professionals, calls to other churches, visits to numerous church cafés and new builds and hours on the internet made me realise that what was needed was a one stop shop to help churches on the same journey that we had travelled. Despite the past experiences of members of the congregation, gathering the knowledge was like a giant jigsaw puzzle without a guiding picture on the lid.

Sometimes the temporary tents are simply worn out or they no longer fulfil their purpose. It's then time to build a structure to be a tool to serve the ministry for generations to come.

Jim Hammett has worked in collaboration with Christian architect Nigel Walter to develop a website that aims to steer people through this journey of faith and offers free advice on clarifying vision, fundraising, practicalities and more www.churchbuildingprojects.co.uk .


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