Should Churches Spend Money on Nice Buildings?

Your church, by God’s grace, needs more space. You need a new building. So how much should you spend? One thing’s for certain: you won’t lack for opinions.

Building projects are a source of significant tension for many pastors and other church leaders. Anyone who has survived the process will recognize these questions: Why don’t we build a beautiful building that reflects God’s glory? Why are we spending so much money on a building when there are so many lacking food, shelter, and especially the gospel?

Writing in his new book Radical Together, David Platt considers these issues as pastor of a megachurch with multi-million-dollar facilities in Birmingham, Alabama.

Because we have this building, I want us to steward it well, whether that means maximizing it for ministry or selling it and spending our resources differently. Everything is on the table, and the Lord will lead us in what is best. I realize that a lot of people in our faith family have sacrificed greatly to make our facility a reality, and I am deeply grateful for God’s grace in them. At the same time, I am not convinced that large buildings are the best or only way to use God’s resources.

Expanding on his point, Platt unveils his concern about such expensive facilities.

You may ask (as members of our church as well as leaders of other churches have asked me in countless conversations), “What’s so wrong with constructing church buildings? Nowhere does the New Testament say we shouldn’t construct church buildings.”

But that’s just it. There’s also nothing in the NT that says we should construct church buildings. So why is it that, whenever we plant a church or whenever a church starts to grow, the first thing we think is, We need to spend masses of our resources on a building? Why would we spend an inordinate amount of our resources on something that is never prescribed or even encouraged in the NT? Why would we not instead use those resources on that which is explicitly promoted in the NT, such as sharing the gospel with the lost or helping the poor in the church? As I write this, more than 700 million people around the world live in slums. Many of them are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Should we really be prioritizing bigger buildings for ourselves?

Many pastors and other church leaders feel this tension that Platt so plainly describes. That doesn’t mean, however, that they would reach the same conclusions. The Gospel Coalition asked three other church leaders to weigh in on the issue of how a local churches should use their resources in relation to a building. We trust their answers will help us think wisely about how our churches steward the resources entrusted to us by God.

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  • Carlos

    The book, “Pagan Christianity” helped me while thinking through that same question that Platt had.

    • Hayden

      You should read Kevin DeYoung’s book “why we love the church” for a good counter-point to “pagan Christianity”

      I respect David Platt’s opinion, but it is just that, an opinion. His idea that nowhere in the Scripture does it talk about church buildings is an argument from silence. He himself would admit that he does many things that are not prescribed in the Scripture.

      I think one of the reasons that church buildings were not talked about in the Scriptures is because the early church was ‘on the run’ and was fighting for the faith, not the form. I think we should be wise with resources but church buildings are not the issue.

      • Carlos

        I read through all the comments of the book, “Why We Love the Church” on Amazon’s website and I don’t think that will address my concerns.

        Hayden, considering anywhere from 50%-85% of all money that members of a local church collect is spent on salaries and building upkeep, I would consider that an issue.

        The early church didn’t have buildings because many were poor and they were growing at an exponential rate. Meetings in homes were more flexible because everyone had one. Building didn’t come into the picture until Constatine started giving Christians old pagan temples to worship in, tax-exempt status that other religions enjoyed, salaries to clergy, etc. The buildings were a status symbol and many saw that being clergy led to political influence and financial gain.

  • Jeff Baxter

    This is an interesting discussion. Thanks for writing about it.

  • Kern Pegues

    It has always bothered me when I look at a church’s budget and about 70 to 80 percent of the churches budget is debt on the buildings and salaries. Maybe you should write about that also. Just saying.


    • Joey E

      I would separate the ideas of Debt and Salaries. Building debt is one thing. But salaries are about having people to shepherd and equip.

  • taco

    Saint Anthony the Great at least did this right.

    Mr. Platt isn’t thinking Radical(TM) enough.

  • Chuan

    From the extract, Platt seems to focus his thesis based on the NT only.
    But many pastors who have spent a bomb on their church buildings would justify their decisions by making reference to King David’s lavish preparations in building a temple for God, and convince their congregations that God deserves the best from us.

    • Jia

      The Temple in OT represent the Invisible Church in NT. As Jesus said: Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days. John 2:19. Beside that, the church’s primary priority is sharing God’s Word and administer the sacraments. Like Acts 2:42: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. The apostles may not interest in convince their congregations. I saw brother and sisters suffered all around the World. Check out our neighbor, they need Gospel. They don’t need another building but God’s Word which is living and active and will last forever.

    • Jonathan

      The OT system of “come and see” has changed in the NT to a system of “go and tell”. We shouldn’t use the OT as an excuse for lavish buildings instead of spending the money to spread the gospel.

  • Darren

    How about thinking of the question from the side of the builder? Can you be a Christian contractor, construction worker, architect, etc. and be paid for the skills you have been given and worked hard to master? Are they not radical?

    • taco

      Obviously not. Look at all the money they spend doing business that could be better stewarded elsewhere. Like teaching other people to be Radical(TM) for instance. Do those contractors really need to live the “American Dream?”

  • Jonathan martinez

    When building a Church, remember the real church is the body of Christ. If we are spending more money and time on the physical building, we have lost our way. How much is spent on building the body of Christ and how much is spent on the physical building is a sure sign of where our definition of church is.

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  • Joey E

    I’ve been a part of a church for 15 years (since I was in college) that has gone through a number of transitions.

    We were “mobile” for years. Had a building fund, but the elders always put a bigger emphasis on hiring staff over building a building.

    God provided a building for us, from a church that went defunct. We made some additions / expansions over the years as our church grew.

    Even though a couple of projects put the church into debt, building bigger and more ornate was never our primary option. We went to more and more services, to maximize what we had. (Plus, with the value of the property, the debt-to-value ratio was one that ANY bank wanted our business).

    Another thing we did that was very cost effective was adding another campus (video teaching). The leadership had looked into expanding the sanctuary (the new Worship Center was built with the idea that we could do this in the future). To add four hundred seats, plus parking, was going to cost a few million dollars. To launch a new campus — which also gave us the ability to reach new folks — cost about $500,000.

  • Big Ben

    I’m afraid we haven’t recovered from Constantinopole’s institutionalising of the church. It was only after that that large cathedrals started springing up. Many of the cathedrals have today become mere symbols.

    At the end of the day, churches need to be spiritually alive, regardless of whether they have the buildings to show for.

  • Richard

    I am afraid that I am not convinced by Platt’s argument. Does the NT command us to build church buildings? No it doesn’t. But then I am compelled to ask, “So what?” I think it is wrong to argue that because the NT doesn’t mention building church it is therefore wrong for churches to build church buildings. That is simply a non sequitur. Should we expect the NT to encourage or prescribe building church buildings? I am not sure we should, after all the NT is not a manual on how to do church. Each congregation needs to use a bit of common sense (wisdom) in how it uses its resources in its own particular situation at different times. To have a physical presence in a local community is of immense help, moreover one can design the building to meet the needs of the local church and lets face it there is nothing wrong with having a place where Christians can meet together to hear God’s word preached and receive the sacraments and this is all that a church building is providing. If people wish to use their artistic gifts to beautify the building then fantastic, human beings have five senses and there is nothing wrong with these five senses being engaged in worship. The whole issue is one of perspective and I think that there is a false choice being presented.

    • Kevin


      I am not seeing the same thing you are seeing in Platt’s arguments. Unless you are using more than what is quoted here, I don’t see him saying it is wrong to build church buildings. He is simply saying that there is a problem when we use “masses” or “inordinate amounts” of our resources on a building. I think we would all have a problem giving to a relief organization or non-profit that used 60-70% of the income on the building they were in. I don’t think we should feel differently about the church and it should be obvious by our finances what is most important. I have never read Platt to say that we shouldn’t have buildings but that we shouldn’t use a huge amount of resources to make those buildings comfortable and attractive.

      • Rebecca

        I thought the same thing, Kevin. Also, excellent point about relief organization budgets.

  • Peter Anselmo

    Not if your not Postmillenial.

  • carl

    Seems that many equate the amount of dollars spent to equal how much we value an item. I do not know if that is right or fair. Some things cost more money than others. I value some things more than other things that might be more expensive. For most rent/mortgage takes up much of their income. This is especially true for the poor. Should they be frowned upon also?

    There is a tension of course but it is not so simple as what we value we should spend the most dollars on.

    • taco

      Interesting point.

      Does the amount of money I spend on my Bible reflect how much I value it? Another interesting question along those lines would be: Does the amount of money I spend on Worship reflect how much I love God? Of course, one might argue Evangelism is worship but that doesn’t negate the counter point at all.

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  • Rick McLain

    No one has yet pointed out that one reason churches try to grow bigger and build bigger buildings is because we Christians (as a majority, based on what I see in the church in America) are not following the New Testament example of training up pastors and leaders within our own congregations (Titus and Timothy for example)who can then plant new churches.

    Do we have an elephant in the room that could also be known as “human pride”? I’ve talked to many believers who boast in their membership numbers, how many paid staff they have, how many seats their sanctuary holds, how many services they have, etc., etc., etc., rather than boast in Christ and what He is doing in the way of bringing souls into the Kingdom through the many members, seats, services, and pastor that their church has. This kind of pride could be a problem for both “laity” and the paid staff.

    We often forget that the resources God gives us personally and as congregations are not to fulfill all of our wants but to bless others so that they can see the love of God in action. Individual believers as well as congregations should look at every dollar in their grasp and ask God how they can best invest it. (personal confession – I fail greatly and often here) I think Jesus’ brother James would look at many of our buildings (church and personal homes) and demand an answer of us to the question “How many people went hungry, naked, and homeless because you chose to build/buy this building?” J.D. Greear might say that mentality indicates a lack of faith in God and His resources, but God chose His children to supply the needs of others. His children, totally depraved though born again, can choose not to be channels of blessings for others and therefore others starve, live homeless, die of preventable diseases, and live in extreme poverty.

    The American church needs to re-examine itself to see if it is still “in the faith”. How many of the things that we do when “doing church” are driven by a secular worldview rather than by the Scriptures? Many are man-made traditions, some based on business models instead of apostolic letters, others based on liberal Darwinian philosophy. Some come directly from pagan traditions. Mega buildings and age-segregated classes/ministries are two things that we do that, though the Bible is silent about them, are not mandated by Scripture either. Sincerely research how these two things came about. Don’t just keep on “doing church” the way you do just because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or because “that’s what’s comfortable” or “it’s relevant to our culture.” We must follow the Holy Spirit’s leading through His Scriptures in how we live as the Body of Christ. That’s the only authority we have and the only guide we have. Culture should not be a standard. Pragmatism should not influence us. If the Scripture is supposedly silent on a current or future church practice, then we should tread very carefully on how we proceed with that practice and not rush headlong because we think we have no specific Scriptural prohibitions against.

    Micah 6 and Isaiah 58 tell us what is important to God. Matthew 25 contains the parable of the servants who invested their master’s resources and then in the same chapter Jesus tells us that when he separates the nations He will recognize those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, housed the homeless, and visited those in prison. He didn’t say anything about recognizing those who build big buildings. We really need to turn back to His Word to see what is important to Him.

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  • Louellen

    Have I been a Judas? My perspective on this topic was drastically changed when reading For All Gods Worth by NT Wright.