This past week, the executive board of Mennonite Church USA gave its approval for a $9.8 million building campaign. The new building, which will be built on the grounds of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, will house both the offices of MCUSA and Mennonite Mission Network. MMN had approved the proposal back in July, but the board of MCUSA held back, wanting more information. You can read the full news release here.
I personally know (and respect) two of the members of the MCUSA board, so I need to tread somewhat carefully here, but I’m still not convinced that a new building worth $6 million (the rest will cover operating costs) is the best way to go. One option which was considered by MCUSA was renovating an existing building at a lesser cost. I’ll grant that there aren’t many buildings in Elkhart County which would likely meet the needs of MCUSA and MMN, but in conversations with others who know, I’d guess the price tag would be signficantly lower than $6 million — maybe as low as $500,000.
I just have to ask (and I’d extend the same question to any church considering a building campaign, as well): what kind of message does this send to Mennonites around the world? Say, Mennonites in Zimbabwe? Or how about the community in Nicaragua where my cousin is living, where during the dry season women have to collect water from wells several kilometers outside of the town?
But here’s the real issue for me: With the exception of Mennonite Central Committee, not one Mennonite agency is growing right now. Some of them are remaining stable in terms of money coming in, but what happens if lowered giving on the part of the consituency isn’t just a lull, but rather a trend? It’s impossible to tell whether five or ten years down the road MCUSA and MMN will need as much space as they need now.
Stewardship isn’t just a personal issue. And more isn’t always better; sometimes it’s just more.
This is a tough issue. Church building is often (usually?) a way to serve ourselves rather than others.
I don’t know the particulars for this issue, but I remember thinking it was good to have MCUSA and MMN on the AMBS campus, so that other resources can be shared if needed (such as offices or conference rooms or access to the AMBS library, perhaps even personell etc). This may or may not justify the cost, but it is at least one positive aspect of the plan.
I remember during a time when we attending a suburban Mennonite church in Illinois. They were considering a signficant building prospect to increase the size of their sanctuary to accommodate anticipated the growth. Their problem? They weren’t reaching out to their neighbours on the outside… hey, they weren’t reaching out to their neighbours on the inside.
If the community would’ve been served by a building expansion I could have seen it, but I still can’t see it. Their numbers fluctuate, with college students coming in during the semester as several professors were at the church making numbers artificially high, however during my time there, roughly 7 months, I can remember 0 public outreach programs, or 0 people confessing faith in Christ in the church for a first time, though I saw with equal number, persons transferring membership from one church to another… and also people leaving the church as their lives took them elsewhere.
I don’t however fret with the MMN and MCUSA expansion, because I think they would be served be connecting closely with other centers for Anabaptist learning, whether that be EMU, AMBS or even CAL in Pasadena. I think AMBS would benefit from having MMN on their grounds, as it will be a mutually beneficial arrangement. Price tag not considered, but I honour the fact that they are struggling with it.