Written by Daron Brown
From his column Pressing On
We are moving! Our church purchased property across town, less than two miles from our current location. For 70+ years, since our congregation’s beginning, we have been gathering in the same place, and now the time and conditions are right for us to move. We completed a capital campaign, and plans are being finalized. The transition will be from one good location to another good location, which has gotten me thinking a lot lately about location.
The real estate mantra: “location, location, location” speaks to the value of property depending on where it is situated. At several points throughout our process, friends have advised me about the importance of property location for ministry purposes. They believe a highly visible church campus is essential to reaching more people with the message of the gospel. They may not be wrong, but I do not believe they are entirely right.
John the Baptist comes to mind. John did not conduct his ministry on prime property. Rather, he attracted disciples and crowds to the middle of what’s called a “wilderness.” People traveled long distances to a remote place because John’s message was compelling. For him, location, location, location did not matter as much as Kingdom, Kingdom, Kingdom. I am familiar with plenty of current examples of thriving congregations who gather in out-of-the-way places. Likewise, there are more than a few cases where churches with highly visible campuses are struggling. Location may not be as important as some believe.
Nevertheless, through searching scriptures and pondering ministry experiences, I have come to realize that location really is central to the ministry of the church. Only, when I say location, I do not mean a street address or curb appeal. And when I say "church," I do not mean bricks, concrete, or steel. Instead, I am talking about the people of God who regularly locate themselves among others in need in their communities.
Jesus moved from a prime location to one that was less so when He came to earth. Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of John 1:14 tells us: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (The Message). For God, location—not of facilities but of people—matters.
In the incarnation, God located himself physically among us. And as His people, we participate in His incarnation by locating ourselves within neighborhoods and communities around us for the sake of carrying out His mission. In other words, incarnation is broader than our theology; it impacts our ecclesiology as the function of the body of believers.
Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch remind us: “The missional church disassembles itself and seeps into the cracks and crevices of a society in order to be Christ to those who don’t yet know him” (The Shaping of Things to Come, 12). Regardless of a church’s campus, the church of Jesus Christ must continually locate itself where we find “cracks and crevices” in a world broken by sin. Our assembling is necessary, but our disassembling, as Frost and Hirsch remind us, is even more important.
The church is a movement, and movements, by definition, must move. The work of the church is not to rest in a structure, but rather to live untethered, continually sharing ourselves and God’s message in the lives of others.
At the end of each worship service, I pronounce the blessing upon the people. It is more than a dismissal. It is a sending out, by the grace of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit. I imagine those words of blessing flowing with my congregation out of the sanctuary, empowering them—in workplaces and schools, in coffeehouses and jails—to be the flesh of Jesus, once again, moving into the neighborhood.
Daron Brown lives and pastors in Waverly, Tennessee.