The ecclesiastical and liturgical changes that developed at the move from domestic-center church to building-centered church set the Christian community on social mapping trajectories that have affected, not only views on the role of women in the church, but how we also define and understand church growth outputs and outcomes. The distinct change from domestic space with more informal domestic relationship oriented habits and associations to a more formal institutionalized ecclesiastical space has, over two plus millennia, created specific social ramifications for the church and for doing church. And, as well, this has influenced what we consider acceptable church growth texts.
We should not underestimate the power of a building as “a church.” As Jeanne Halgren Kilde reminds us, the “material world is far from neutral,” nor is a “church building” any less neutral [Sacred Power, Sacred Space: An Introduction to Christian Architecture and Worship, 199]. Although reflecting on earlier church history, yet still valid to our contemporary building-centered church, Kilde continues, “Christian space is dynamic space. It is powerful space” . The power of sacred space, including a building designated as “a church,” changes everything. Power shifts. Sustainability becomes necessary. Maintaining approved and acceptable hierarchies become absolute. Habits associated with the use of a “sacred” building and the division it makes with everyday life orients our social mapping. A building-centered church experience is not nuetral to the church’s associations and human relationships in and outside the church community (i.e., a local church community).
The use of building-centered sacred space as church is a language itself, a specific “god-talk” that that creates a separation from other non-sacred church space, reinforcing a incongruence, a cleavage between everyday life and, also, a barrier between human and human social mapping (or a redefining of social mapping). The shift to now long entrenched habits and meaning associated with building-centered, addressed sacred space made with human hands known as “a church” has provided an interpretive lens for reading the New Testament. The question is not whether we should have specific buildings as centers of “church” activities, but how such building-centered church experiences influence and mold both our interpretation of biblical texts and our understanding of church—and thus, form our parameters for church growth. Interestingly, the Ephesians household code suggests how “members” are understood as persons, and in doing so, there is potential to move beyond mere numbers of people as the only outcome for church growth.
*For those following my thoughts on "Church Growth" as I prepare a paper for the upcoming November 2015 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Atlanta. This portion comes from the paper entitled, "Domesticating Church Growth (Eph 5:18-6:9): The Spirit-Filled Temple-Church Architecture (Wives-Husbands/Children-Fathers/Slaves-Masters) and Outcomes of Personhood."
Other Not by the Numbers posts >>
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.