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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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How to make sure building projects serve the church’s mission – not the other way round

As church leaders, we’re trained to teach the Bible and to pastor our people. As followers of Jesus, we enter this vocation because of a call to disciple God’s people and to evangelise to the lost.  

Neither of those things sounds like being a construction project manager. But that’s what lots of us end up doing… 

In my case, I had neither been trained to lead a major building project, nor felt called to do so. But like many other leaders, I found myself overseeing a multi-million-pound development project at our church in Reading, involving vision casting, fundraising, budgeting, council planning applications, and communication at multiple levels. All this alongside the day-to-day role of being a church leader. 

When I arrived at Greyfriars, I was told that this development project had been slowly progressing for nearly 20 years, with the goal of rebuilding the site and providing up-to-date facilities that would enable the church’s mission to grow. Now, after a series of failed attempts across two decades, I was handed the task of going back to the drawing board! 

Fast forward nine years. Looking back at the project, my heart is full of thanks to God. He is faithful, and the work is done. And along the way I’ve picked up a few lessons that I’d offer to anyone taking on a similar, major project. Because above all else, we have to be careful that these good endeavours serve the whole-life mission of the church – and not the other way around. 

Start with vision 

So we began with a clear vision – not for the building, but for the church. A sense of discontent with what we had, and a longing for more. More space to help disciple our children, youth, and students. More facilities to welcome new people onto the site at Greyfriars. More room to welcome people from Reading to come and use the space for educational and relational purposes. More options for partnerships with mission organisations. More room for our small groups to meet and grow in their faith, empowering their ministry on their frontlines. More options to partner with organisations like LICC, to use the site for conferences and gatherings.  

Our vision is to see Reading transformed by the love and power of Jesus. Within that, we focus on equipping the church to be whole-life disciples, reaching out in mission, and resourcing the wider church. This vision was the framework for our redevelopment project. It helped us decide the size of the new premises, the scope of the new buildings and the shape of the spaces within the redeveloped site.  

Because our vision was about empowering and equipping whole-life disciples to minister on their frontlines, we significantly reduced the size of the proposed development, compared to previous plans. The building helps us, but the goal is whole-life disciplemaking.  

Fix your eyes on Jesus 

The greatest challenge for me as a church leader was to keep my eyes on Jesus, trusting in his provision for people to help with the building project and the finances. Humanly speaking, I was totally overwhelmed by the scale of the project and the money involved, but I had to choose to trust that if God wanted this project to come about, he would provide all we needed.  

There is always a risk that a major project dominates a church leader, taking up our thoughts, vision, prayers, conversations, and time. So before we began the project, I spoke with several older, wise leaders, who advised me not to get too consumed by the development. I remember thinking at the time, ‘Well, that sounds easier said than done!’  But their advice was vital. I tried not to endlessly obsess in my own head and heart about the project. I deliberately chose not to talk too much to the church family about the building, but to focus on growing whole-life disciples. 

Our major development project launched just before COVID hit in 2020. Those were very challenging moments, as we pivoted and adapted to online church, as well as trying to get a building project underway. Mercifully, I was forced to keep my eyes on Jesus! 

The new building opened in two phases in 2022 and 2023. Those were also times to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus – to give him the glory for all that had happened, for the people he provided to lead the project, for the money that paid for the project, for the fact that the site was redeveloped despite the chaos of COVID. As the church gathered to give thanks for the new site and pray for it, we kept our eyes on Jesus and his vision for disciplemaking and mission going forwards.  

Be clear about who the building is for 

William Temple famously said, ‘The church is the only organisation that does not exist for itself, but for those who live outside of it.’ Greyfriars is the oldest Franciscan church in the country still in use as a place of worship. It was founded in 1311, with a vision to share the gospel and serve the poor. It was an outward-looking vision, which we continue to pursue to this day.  

The development project had to serve the wider community in Reading, not just the church family. As a result, we planned a new café, the Atrium, as a light and accessible space, open seven days a week, allowing people to come and enter the church site and use it for meeting friends, colleagues and family. The Atrium is a bridge between the church and the town – a stepping stone for people to enter the church community. 

We also knew we needed to equip and encourage our people as whole-life disciples. In doing so, we needed room to gather, to teach, to pastor, to pray and to allow ministries and mission to grow and flourish – all with the aim of sending people out to their communities and to their places of work, to live as disciples of Christ. We are a church that equips, empowers, and sends our people out, to minister wherever they are. 

David Walker
Vicar, Greyfriars Reading and Imagine Work Champion, LICC

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