Henry David Thoreau on Church Buildings

The future ministry center for Illumine.

The future ministry center for Illumine.


After describing the painstaking effort he put into building his own home on Walden pond, Henry David Thoreau wrote: "It would be worth the while to build still more deliberately than I did, considering, for instance, what foundation a door, a window, a cellar, a garret, have in the nature of man and perchance never raising any superstructure until we found a better reason for it than our temporal necessities even."

Our lease at 1262 Riverchase Blvd. begins on July 16th. As we begin the moving, working, adjusting, planning, and everything else it takes to make this a great ministry headquarters for Illumine, let's make sure we're taking Thoreau's advice to heart. This building needs to be more than just a solution for our "temporal necessities" (storage, classroom space, not-wanting-to-set-up-every-Sunday, etc.) Our reason for going into this place must be deeper than that. This building needs to be a place from which the Great Commission will happen. From which you and I will go and make disciples. At which children will learn that God loves them. Relationships will begin and grow through compassion, prayer, and communion. From here Rock Hill, York County, and hopefully all of Charlotte must be blessed.

To be clear, then, we aren't turning a night club into a church. I know I've said it this way, but what we're doing is more than and different from that. You see, we already have a church - it's us, the people who come together around the gospel. What we're actually doing is turning a night club into a facility at which community and Gospel will intersect on a daily basis - and that, frankly, is a much better reason to do the work that lies before us than any mundane, temporal necessities.

We must see this place as more than a building, as Thoreau points out - and we also must see it as more than a church.

With that in mind, I'd like to encourage you to go against your natural tendency to call the building at 1262 Riverchase "church." Instead, train yourself to call it a ministry center, or simply "the center." 

This means that instead of "Have you seen our church?" you'll say "Have you seen our ministry center?" Instead of, "Let's meet at church," you'll say "Let's meet at the center." Instead of "I think I left the pacifier at church," say "I think I left the pacifier at the center." See? The center, the center, the center...repeat it until it becomes second nature. I'm aware that at the beginning this will feel silly and foolish, and I'll feel the same way, but trust me. The way we speak about things directly affects the way we think about them.

Calling 1262 Riverchase the center will help us become the kind of church we've been dreaming about. Every time you call this place the center, you will reframe for yourself and your hearers not only the fact that the Church is not a building, but also the reason why we have a facility. The building will be the central point from which we "go and make disciples." It will be like a conference center, hosting important events (worship, education, community service) for the community. It will be the geographical point at which the paths of all who are part of Illumine intersect. The "center" for Illumine Church, but not Illumine Church itself.

By replacing just one word (church) with another (center), we will start down a path toward making this location a truly significant place in Rock Hill, one to which all Rock Hillians can look for comfort, wisdom, and compassion. This small change will also make a difference in the way people perceive our building. I once heard an adult-convert-turned-missionary say that "it is just as unlikely for an unbeliever to walk into a church as it is for one of your congregation members to walk into a strip-club." True, and sobering. However, if someone is invited to a service event and reads that the Illumine Center is a state-of-the-art, 12,675 square foot facility that hosts hundreds of events each year with thousands of attendees, they are automatically more comfortable. They've been to places like that before.

Most people hear "church" and think steeple instead of people. It's my hope that 10 years from now, when people say "Illumine Church" they think about people and ministries, not a building. To help them out, let's give them a different term for the building, and in doing so change their mindset, and our own, about why this "superstructure" exists.

Thank you for reading,
Kent Reeder