Fascinating article here about some surprisingly high UK stats re young people becoming Christian converts because they have visited a church building (esp. cathedrals). The underlying research is here (H/T Bosco Peters).
I leave it to you, dear reader, to make what you will of the stats but if there is something in them then we should revise our cliched formulae about "church is people, not buildings."
Just maybe, perhaps and possibly church buildings contribute to making church people.
For myself I am confident that buildings are not just bricks and mortar when they are churches. Church buildings point people to God, they symbolise the gospel, they witness to the existence of God, they offer spaces in which people experience special encounters ("sacred space") and they assert the presence of Christian people in the surrounding community.
Yes, the church is people in the sense that church does not stop because (say) church buildings are demolished (as we have experienced in Christchurch).
Yes, the church is people in the sense that if you are down to your last $100k and have to choose between paying the vicar and the youth worker or repairing the church building, then invest in people and not bricks and mortar.
No, the church is not only people because the people of the church are the church when they gather together. And gatherings in many climates need a roof, walls, windows, doors and seats. Rarely is the crunch church building or people. Normally it is both, with reasonable arguments about what size church building and what quality of building.
Of course that brings me to our Anglican cathedral here in Christchurch and our forthcoming debate in our Synod, 7-9 September.
I am committed to having a cathedral in the Square which is the heart of our city. Our forefathers envisioned a city built in ways reminiscent of Oxford. *That vision led to a predilection for stone buildings in the Neo-Gothic style. While not original to that vision, the early settlers settled on having a cathedral at the heart of the city. Doing so underlined the "Christ" and "church" in "Christchurch."* Whatever kind of cathedral (reinstated, brand new) it should be there and not somewhere else.
Imagine if we let go of the site and a mosque was built on it instead ...
Postscript: Brian Law, former director of the Cathedral Choir, argues cogently in this morning's Press about the deficiencies in the cathedral that was while pressing the claims of Miles' Warren's proposal that the cathedral be rebuilt according to the original George Gilbert Scott design.
*The original post read, between the asterisks, "Our forefathers envisioned a city built around a cathedral and it was a great vision." This is not accurate as the original vision was for an Oxbridge type college at the heart of the city (i.e. what is today Christ's College).