Empty Cathedrals

I have been watching a mega church construction project while commuting to and from work.  This is a really impressive project- super big building and giant size parking lot.  It really looks like a high school campus more than a church project.  I have heard that it cost 10 million dollars, which I think would be a great price for the facility based on the scale of the project.

Worship Service- Western Zambia 2009

Observing this project has led me to reflect on church construction and the costs associated with building a campus that is bigger and better than the church down the road.  Is bigger really better?  Is it really a wise use of resources to purchase and own a church building?

The purpose of the church building is ministry.  There is no use in the residual value of the investment to build a church.  When the church reaches the end of its effectiveness, they are generally sold at a giant discount and are used for other purposes.  I remember seeing a church in a city that was converted to a nightclub!  I recently saw a church in a magazine that was converted to a residence.  I have heard of isolated instances of reuse through purchasing by another church, however, this seems to be very limited.

There is some amazing architecture in church buildings.  The cathedrals of Europe are examples of this.  If the purpose is to provide really amazing architectural wonders- then go ahead and build them big.  However the cathedrals of Europe are largely empty on Sunday.  Ministry is not happening there.  Just tours to view the amazing buildings and huge costs for maintenance and restoration.

So- why can’t the church rent?  There is typically plenty of existing retail or office buildings that could be rented and remodeled to accomplish the needs of a church.  You may not have the impressive expansive sanctuaries and rows of classrooms but an old retail store or office building can be a practical and efficient alternative.  So, comfort or ministry? 

The costs to build and maintain a church campus is huge.   These costs limit the flexibility of how the church can use its resources.  The more efficient that you are in your facilities costs, the more available funds that you will have to minister to the needs of the community.  The costs to build and own a church often strangles a church budget and severely limits ministry resources.    

The Israelites lived in tents and they were able to move when the Lord moved.  Most churches go through cycles of growth and effectiveness, and yet they are tied to a fixed facility and location.  If a church is renting and struggling to be effective in their particular community and they feel that the Lord has opened the doors to move- they can move.  They are not tied to a permanent location.  When you leave, the building can be easily converted to another use and will not become another empty cathedral.

So I say- it is right for the church to rent!  I also believe that the Lord will provide a building Owner that will bless the church with a favorable rental terms.  Concentrate the resources of the church to reach the lost and minister to the poor. 

The temple is the old covenant.  The veil has been torn.  You have been commanded to go.  Let’s pour our resources into advancing His kingdom for His glory!

 “Every year in the United States, we spend more than $10 billion on church buildings.  In America alone, the amount of real estate owned by institutional churches is worth over $230 billion.  We have money and possessions, and we are building temples everywhere.  Empires, really.  Kingdoms.  We call them houses of worship.  But at the core, aren’t they too often outdated models of religion that wrongfully define worship according to a place and wastefully consume our time and money when God has called us to be a people who spend our lives for the sake of His glory among the needy outside the gates?”  Radical by David Platt.  

Do you agree or do you think that I am full of you know what?  Let me know by clicking on comment below!  

6 responses to “Empty Cathedrals”

  1. Ouch! We are called by Jesus to “GO and make disciples”. I think about all those resources we are using on a building, and then I think about the lady with seven children in the bush of Africa, that, by GOING to Africa, said to me, “I have never heard that scripture before”, “you came to tell us about Jesus and you saved my soul”! She didn’t even know how she was going to feed her children after her husband passed away, but through the obedience to “GO”, this woman had HOPE that God was watching over her and her family, that He was their provider, and she slept for the first time since her husbands death – Leaning on Jesus for her strength!

    I pray that we will take these resources to reach our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth! In turn, as the church(body) recognizes the importance of God’s mandate to “GO” the people will understand the JOY of the LORD because there is nothing better than seeing a soul saved from the pit of hell! Nothing!


    • Preach it honey! Yes!- the operative word is GO! If the church is strangled by debt or facilities it makes it very tough to reach out! Thanks for sharing your life experience reminder of why we need to GO!


  2. What is the cost of building a temple for God? In the picture above I seen at least 100 temples. 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; and 2 Corinthians 6:16 says we are the temple of God. Is the Kingdom a bunch of church buildings. I think $230 billion could be better utilized in showing the love of Jesus. Father, give us Your heart.


    • Yes- seems like we could do a bunch of ministry for $230 billion! I agree that it is ALL about showing the love of Jesus to a lost and hurting world. Great scripture references- “The temple of God is holy, and you are that temple.” 1 Corinthians 3:17 No need for sticks and bricks! Thanks Brian!


  3. I just returned from a trip to Europe where I visited a number of those cathedrals you mention. You are right to say that they are largely empty of worship. That was my impression as well, but I came away from my visit to each of them having seen a reflection of the beauty and glory of God. For whatever purpose they may have been originally built, they stand as a testament to that and a reminder (at least to me) of how little we understand about God’s glory and the beauty of his Heaven. As I stood looking at the countless, priceless pieces of art, I took away the sense of all who had prayed and worshipped in those places. Will our mega-church buildings of today inspire the same thing in ten years, a hundred years, or even a thousand years from now? Will those buildings even still be standing?

    Solomon’s temple was incredibly beautiful, from biblical accounts. I do think that we honor God, when we build well for him. It is always a precarious balance though, is it not? How much is enough, how much is too much? Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer for that. However, your point about a church renting space is very valid. The church we are attending is doing just that (in a warehouse-type facility) so that they can direct their available funds to missions and ministry. I would guess that each church body has to determined God’s best plan for that particular body and that plan may not be the same for each group. Obviously, no easy answer here. Thanks for your insights! You are spot-on.


    • Thank you so much for your insights! I agree that we honor God when we give Him our very best! I also believe that the Lord will use His abundance to provide amazing opportunities for giving. There is definitely another side to the story here. The crisis of faith in giving beyond what you can imagine is the target! I am sure that those empty cathedrals have plenty of those stories. Where the wealthy will give it all away for the sake of the Gospel! That’s a pretty beautiful picture too! Thanks for adding to this! Blessings to you and your family!


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