While on my way to play golf in Maryville in the summer of 2009, I noticed steel going up at a site that I discovered was going to be a church - a very large church. It appeared that they were upgrading from the much smaller building just down the road. I continued to pass by several times each year, seeing more progress on the construction each time. In 2016, it looked like they were finally settled in with only grounds work left to do. It took at least seven years to build that church. The Empire State Building was built in fourteen months. I have jokingly said that it looked like they were doing whatever construction the previous week's collection allowed. Apparently, I wasn't far off. I don't know the specifics of the financing, but visiting their website, I found that they constructed this $6.7 million, 80,000 square foot building debt free. The description of the facilities contained in the building and outside is mind boggling: multiple auditoriums, sanctuaries, and event centers, gymnasium with fitness center, coffee shop and bookstore, preschool for 200 students, and Christian Academy for 420 students. The 20-acre site will include ball fields, running track, and a splash pad. Back in the real world, at Westside we'd settle for a social hall separate from our sanctuary.
I'm sure the people who use these facilities will enjoy good fellowship with like-minded parishioners, feel good about their faith, and be able to attract more members. I just can't help but think about what all that money could have done to help people in need, which I believe is a primary mission of just about every religious institution. Do these mega-churches
really need all these elaborate facilities, or are they just making a statement, kind of like those large metal crosses you see along major highways that cost over $100,000 to erect.
So, what makes a church? Is it lavish facilities or symbols? Certainly, some necessary facilities help, but I'd maintain that people and deeds are what make a church. As Abigail Adams once said, "To be good, and to do good, is the whole duty of man comprised in a few words." Thank goodness for the many people at Westside who do so many things to keep Westside going, whether it is the paid staff or those in the congregation who volunteer their time, skills, and resources to perform all the necessary tasks that allow us to come to this facility to hear inspiring words, learn new things, enjoy times of inner reflection, socialize with accepting people, and sometimes do good in the larger community.
None of the funds that Westside is fortunate to receive is spent on luxuries. We can all dream of the day when we can enlarge and improve our facilities, but meanwhile we'll continue to enjoy the fellowship and inspiration that mostly just requires the good people we currently have and hope to attract as time goes on, because people are what truly make a church.