For many centuries in Europe the building the church meets in has been so synonymous with the church itself (i.e. the people) that the two even came to share the name. Church life happened in the building, or occasionally spilled over into a church hall, and so the building became the focus of church life. It even reached the point where the objective of the believing community was to bring non-Christians into the building where an event took place to preach the gospel to them. It seemed as if the church members were merely ushers, bringing people into the building so that the professionals could deal with them.
In the latter half of the 20th century, largely spurred by new churches which did not own their own buildings but met either in homes or rented halls, the church developed ‘every member’ ministry. The ordinary church member was now empowered, encouraged, and occasionally even trained to go out of the building to be a witness in the world. They were encouraged to evangelise in their communities and workplaces. They were told they could bring people into the kingdom without first bringing them into the building. And so there came a reaction against focussing on the building, as the church sought to take its message out to people who were unlikely to go into a church building.
Now it seems that a balance is being found, and many successful churches are returning to an emphasis on using the building, but in a radically different way. Instead of bringing people into the building so that they can attend a Christian activity, churches are inviting the non-Christian community into their buildings to be part of a variety of social activities, not necessarily run by the Christians. These can include bars and cafes, debt counselling, advice centres, dance classes, children’s activities, parties and all manner of community activities. The result is that a new type of community emerges, one composed of Christians and non-Christians who work together for the good of the wider community, providing the church with an opportunity to genuinely help build a better future for its neighbourhood but also to establish trusting and effective relationships with a view to effectively living out a gospel witness. This ‘fuzzy-edged’ church is a model for future missional community involvement which successfully harmonises a passion to go out into the world to make disciples with an efficient use of a strategically-located building