EFAC Australia

Making Property Serve Mission: Rethinking the Church’s Buildings for the 21st Century
Fred Batterton Clifton Hill, 2016

Sometimes I imagine a conversation between friends from different countries or ministry contexts. This book appeals to me as a conversation between three good friends: mission; parish ministry; and buildings.

Mission has been a long term interest. Mostly global mission, but I see the same missiological principles as relevant and valuable for local mission. Another friend, Parish ministry, has been the context for most of my ministry, and God’s church is central to the mission of God’s people. Buildings are an old friend because my father was a builder and I spent many early summers in his employ. These friends have come into conversation in my role as Archdeacon of Essendon, in the inner North West of Melbourne. Melbourne archdeacons are seeking to help parishes to think missionally. In this endeavour I will be recommending Making Property Serve Mission as a great resource to consider the potential missional purpose of our buildings.

Making Property Serve Mission looks at the buildings and land accumulated by the Christian Church and asks, is property enabling the mission of the Church in the twenty-first century? If so, how are churches achieving this aim, and if not, what should be done?

I keep wanting to describe this as ‘a great little book’, except that it is not little. It is comprehensive, rich in Biblical and theological perspectives. Fred Batterton is an architect, but like many of that profession, a serious thinker. He asks great questions. His first question sets up the rest of the book.
The Christian Church is one of the largest property owners in the world. It has some of the world’s finest architecture as well as some of its simplest buildings, but are they serving the purpose of the church in the 21st century?

The purpose of the church is God’s purpose, and that purpose is missional, centring on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Batterton has a robust ecclesiology, and readily admits that Jesus’ call to his disciples, as church, had little to do with buildings. Early churches met in borrowed spaces. However Batterton also sees the possibility of a ‘three way relationship between God, people and place’ The Jerusalem temple was clearly meant to proclaim truth about God. For example, it was to remind people of the possibility of forgiveness.

Batterton explores opportunities that church property can offer.

My own local church congregation, St Augustine’s Moreland, meets in a former Salvation Army building on a major thoroughfare, Sydney Road in Coburg. We have recently given the front of the building a facelift which includes a very contemporary mural with a cross as the central motif. We see our focus in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. However, even though we value our ancient origins and being established in Christ, we seek to see ourselves as also alive to the present and hopeful for the future. One reason for our mural is that people could not find our church. Hopefully they will find us and consider our message as relevant today. When I visited nearby businesses on Sydney Road just before Christmas the mural was a cause for comment and gave me gospel opportunities.

My son-in-law is Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, a gracious landmark in Melbourne city.1  My wife also serves in the 9am congregation. Cathedral clergy comment on the way the building can assist evangelism and underline theological truth. Cathedral guides and written signage draw visitors’ attention to the theological significance of features. For example, the baptism font is an occasion to speak of the sacrament’s gospel meaning.

Do our properties enable the mission of today’s Church? Making Property Serve Mission helps us to reflect on how our churches achieve this aim, and if not, what should be done?

Batterton’s book addresses all building types. It contains frequently asked questions and is relevant to different denominations and churchmanship. Sections include:

  • Define your core business
  • How property can serve mission
  • Evaluate your assets and opportunities
  • Where to find help
  • Design considerations
  • How to pay for it
  • Getting traction to proceed

He also has good material on frequently asked questions and troubleshooting.

Richard Giles also commends the book and asks the question ‘Do we own our property’, or ‘does our property own us’? He goes on to comment, ‘This is a question all churches should ask themselves regularly.’ Making Property Serve Mission can assist churches to investigate this important issue. If you are considering a building project, refurbishment or upgrade buy this book. It should be in the library of every Archdeacon who is concerned with people, property and mission.

Mission and buildings are, at times, seen as competitors, chasing a share of the church budget, rather than friends who can help one another. Making Property Serve Mission demonstrates how buildings can become tools for mission.

Making Property Serve Mission is available in paperback and various e-book formats.

Len Firth

1 Its iconic status came to recent prominence when it was one of three buildings targeted by a planned terrorist attack at Christmas 2016.