Which would you rather have--a restaurant with a great atmosphere and lousy food, or a restaurant with great food but a lousy atmosphere?
Where would you rather shop, a place with clean stores and a nice atmosphere but poor selection and pricing, or, a place with dirty, dimly-lit stores but great pricing and selection?
If you are thinking like I do, you are probably thinking, "I don't want to choose between the two. I want both!" We want great atmosphere and great food. We want clean stores, nice atmosphere, great selection, and great pricing.
Where would you rather go to church,
How do you think the unchurched would answer that question? We all prefer both.
C.S. Lewis taught that we are amphibious beings--with one foot in the spirit world and one foot in the physical world. The world has a tendency to forget that we are spirits. The church has a tendency to forget that we have bodies that care about the stuff of earth.
On the whole, churches make too little of the stuff we call atmosphere. We tend to think of heavenly things like prayer and preaching and worship and Bible study. We tend to think that if people were really spiritual they would not care that there are little stacks of trash--old literature and what not--in nearly every classroom, that the walls desperately need a fresh coat of paint, and the preschool smells like a dirty diaper. Really spiritual people don't care about that sort of stuff, right?
Maybe. But even so, we are trying to reach not so spiritual people, right?
James River Assembly in Ozark, MO, where I was this past weekend hasn't made this mistake. They understand that we are amphibious beings. This helps to explain why when they build a gorgeous new state-of-the-art facility that their attendance doubled in one year. We are not talking about going from 50 to 100. We are talking going from 3000 to 6000 in one year after a relocation. Similar results happen in many churches that relocate. People like nice, new buildings as well as a spiritually vibrant atmosphere.
Years ago a man made and off-hand comment to me about the fact that every church he knows that has relocated has done well and grown rapidly after the relocation. Ever sense that comment, I have been watching. I have been in quite a number of churches that have relocated. And, without exception every one of them has done well and grown rapidly after the relocation.
To be fair, James River, like most churches that relocate, was experiencing growth before the relocation. In fact, they were busting at the seams, bussing people in from blocks around from make-shift parking areas. In this sense, relocation did not create the growth, so much as it continued the growth. Relocating provided space that the growth energy they were already enjoying needed.
At the previous location, James River had enough spiritual vibrancy to overcome the obstacles of bad parking and crowded conditions. Once these barriers were relieved, they doubled in one year.
One of the best ways to reach the people in suburban areas exploding with growth is to relocate for existing churches to those areas. New churches don't always have the financial strength to do what is needed.
Ironically, much of the cost relocation ends up being paid for by these new people. Much (although not all) of the new building is free to the existing church.
I'd invite you to consider doing what Brushy Creek in Greenville, SC did. Put the building on a long term amortization so that you can afford the payments if you don't grow. Then, when you do grow, apply much of the growth in income to pay off the note early.
Or, use the creative plan First Baptist Church Livingston did described in this article.
Relocation to a brand, spanking new building is one application of this atmosphere AND spiritual vibrancy concept, but it is not the only application. There is what one person called, "The Law of the Mop Bucket."
The Law of the Mop Bucket says this. You take a dirty mop bucket and place it in the corner of your auditorium. The first week, everyone will be outraged, asking all kinds of questions and making all kinds of complaints. Let's suppose you put up with this and just leave the mop bucket there. Wait six weeks. No will will notice the mop bucket any more. That is the Law of the Mop Bucket.
The bad news is, many churches have dirty mop buckets laying around and don't see them. Trust me on this, I see them every week.
You might consider trading afternoons with someone from another church and volunteer to do a walk through. You look at their church from an outsiders perspective and allow them to look at yours in the same way.
The spiritual things are more important than atmosphere. Having a pretty building is not as important as praying well or teaching well. But it is still important. We want both spiritual vibrancy and clean buildings. We want both atmosphere and entrée.