Why don't we halt the Go and Grow project and plough the millions of pounds into employing vast numbers of youth leaders and other workers in order to effect lasting change in the lives of myriad people? On the face of it that looks like a great strategy; however if we look more closely we will soon realise that such an approach misses the central reason why we are doing this and, in anything but the very short term, wouldn't work.
Bricks without straw
Remember when the children of Israel were slaves in Egypt, their Egyptian overlords demanded that they make ever more bricks, but without supplying the basic raw materials? The ancient Egyptians did this as some kind of cruel punishment for their defiant slaves. But so often organisations fall into the same trap.
Conversely, I remember when we first employed Liz Bewley, our former youth pastor, we had a vision to greatly grow the ministry with what at the time was a new post. But before Liz arrived we decided it was essential to spend a considerable amount of money to build the now familiar Youth Hall. We rightly saw that to employ someone without giving her the right tools to fulfil her objectives would be counter-productive, leading to frustration and disillusionment. I am so glad we did that, because what we witnessed in the ensuing years was a flourishing youth ministry that probably would never have even got off the ground had it not been for the facility of the Youth Hall. Likewise to expect the ministry and mission of the church to flourish without the right facilities is short-sighted.
Powering up the body
Why do so many of us go to the gym? Surely it would be easier to get someone else to go for you, while you were able to continue to slouch on the couch. But of course that misses the point; we want to keep fit. The church is the body of Christ and is meant to have a healthy physique involving every part of her. A church that simply employs more and more people would soon become a mere service provider, rather than the participatory volunteer movement that she is meant to be. In other words there is a point beyond which employing more staff is no longer helpful and can be actually destructive to the life and mission of the church. The paid staff of the church are not there to "do the work", but rather to empower and facilitate everyone to engage in the life and mission of the church.
Mark Shannon recently made a very similar point very eloquently:
"In my experience St Barnabas already invests greatly in people (speaking as one who has been invested in and makes time to invest in other people as well.) The problem is the moment you start employing/paying people to do what I believe God has called us to do you can easily disenfranchise those who are not employed or paid. St Bs already has over 700+ workers and missionaries in the community (some of those people may not realise it yet and need encouragement.) However on the surface this does seem like a lot of money for a building but in reality it isn't just a building it is the way of taking the past and current legacy of St Bs work right into the heart of an expanding North Finchley community for the next 100 years."
In the UK typically evangelical churches employ between 1½-3% of their active membership rising with the size (and therefore the required professionalism) of the church. Interestingly in Holland the model is quite different. I well remember being a visiting speaker to a large Dutch church and was astounded to find a church with a membership of over 400 had one full-time pastor, one part-time administrator and one part-time youth worker. How did they cope? Yet at the same time they had a very nicely presented church building with good facilities right in the city centre. Clearly they thought nothing of spending money on buildings, whilst employing lots of people was not part of their plan. The church was thriving, but doing so by an incredible level of engagement by volunteers giving huge amounts of time and effort. I confess, that whilst clearly this model is fundamentally incompatible with the over-stretched London lifestyles that we are all enmeshed in, the idea of church as volunteer community was deeply attractive.
Our vision is to so structure the church that we empower hundreds and even thousands of people to live out their lives of discipleship and to engage in mission. In order to do that effectively we will need all the very best facilities and the maximum profile in the community. As such, despite the vast sums involved, the move to Solar House will surely be money well spent, putting the church on a new platform for growth for the next generation.