The early church didn’t have air conditioning. Or a building. Or a parking lot.
Jesus didn’t have a big screen. Or a worship band. Or study guides. Or an app.
Whenever I post or share an article about some practical tips for church growth, I always get negative comments. Most remind me that Jesus didn’t worry about sermon length or parking capacity or what kind of coffee is served in the lobby. The Apostle Paul didn’t have a “brand” or a web site.
Which brings me to today’s question: should churches use air conditioning?
Honestly, what has air conditioning got to do with our mission to share Jesus? There’s no A/C in the Bible. Wouldn’t God be better served if the money we used to cool our buildings were instead given to the poor?
Travel with me to St. Joseph’s church in Phoenix. That congregation could save about $4000 a year by skipping the AC. Just turn it off in January. No one will notice.
Until summer. As the temperature rises, attendance will fall. I guarantee it.
Which brings me to the real point of this post: when it comes to serving Jesus practical things matter. Not as much as spiritual things. But they do matter.
Let’s go back to St. Joe’s. It’s August, and it’s 111 degrees outside – and nearly that hot inside the sanctuary. Folks are complaining. Attendance has dropped from 300 worshippers in January to just 20 today.
Nothing changed from a spiritual perspective. The Word is still being preached. The sacraments are still being administered. The worship band is still performing (except for Louie the drummer who was taken to the hospital for heat exhaustion).
Christianity has always been a mixture of the spiritual and the practical. We see this in Christ – both God and man. He was God’s son – but he also had human needs. He got sleepy. Hungry. He stubbed his toe. He went to the bathroom.
Air conditioning, chairs, buildings and electricity are just practical tools that allow Christians to gather in comfort. Marketing, videos and big-screen displays help pastors reach and teach more effectively. Just because we don’t see these tools mentioned in the scriptures doesn’t mean we’re wrong to use them today.
We’re Christians – not Gnostics. We wrestle not against the material world – we use it to our advantage.
Of course, the spiritual always trumps the practical. If the Holy Spirit falls on a congregation it doesn’t matter where they meet – people will come.
But when we fail to get the practical things right, spiritual things often suffer. St. Joe’s saved $4000 by turning off the A/C. But they lost $22,000 in donations – and the deficit quickly wiped out their mission giving altogether.
So what’s more important? Spiritual stuff. Does practical stuff matter? You bet.
So the next time I write a post about messaging or décor or some other practical aspect of church, please understand: I’m not saying these are more important than the spiritual aspects of church. But they do matter. A church that wants to reach more men starts with the practical – and relies on God for the spiritual.