When we imagine what a church can become, there is one thing that can be a great liability or a considerable asset: the church building itself. It can be difficult to know what to do with the stained glass and soaring ceilings, especially when a congregation needs a new mission and ministry.

I began to understand some of the complexities when I ate lunch with a real estate agent who specializes in selling historic properties in Austin, Texas. She had a passion for “keeping Austin weird,” which is shorthand for keeping the corporate franchises at bay while allowing the local arts and sense of history. When our conversation moved to contemplating the future of the church, I began to talk about buildings.

“The bricks and mortar have become a noose around our necks,” I said, shaking my head. “Congregations spend so much money on sanctuaries that seat 700, while they’re lucky to get 50 people showing up on a Sunday. They can’t afford a pastor or any mission, because all their money is going to plumbing patches and roof repairs.”