What Anon @4:10pm said is very much the case. Additional buildings represent greater responsibility for those who build and maintain them – they are a means of gathering more revenue (mortgage, maintenance, etc) and of vaunting the importance of those who manage the revenue and effort. As for pastors, I can only imagine what such building projects do for them in the eyes of the peers, but more importantly, in the eyes of their leaders in Synod.
I.J. Reilly had a story a few days ago. I have one of my own. Many years ago, as a relatively new WELS Lutheran, shortly after joining my congregation, I was very solemnly taken aside and informed of their “building project.” The project leaders told me all about the need for more space (things were tight, and there was legitimate need for expansion), and explained the spiritual journey that led them to propose their building plan to the congregation several weeks before I had joined: they told me all about the earnest praying, the Bible reading, the genuine emotions they experienced together, the consequent deliberation, and the final conviction that if they built an elaborate $750k addition, triple the size of the current structure, the community would be so impressed, they would start coming to church and the congregation would grow. The size of this congregation was ~150 souls, and it had begun to decline slightly.
I laughed in their face. Fresh out of pop-church Evangelicalism, I was no stranger to the “God is big, so plan big,” mantra – but a $4k per person project, with all of the ongoing maintenance cost that would ensue, was pretty steep. I replied, “Surely you have a program in place to raise funds. I would imagine that you plan to take a few years to do so. How long did you think it will be before you have the funds?” His answer: “We made an appeal at last quarter's voters' meeting, and agreed that God's people in this congregation will supply the needed funds by the next voters' meeting so that we can proceed before the end of Spring.” I was no longer laughing, but bug-eyed with incredulity. This was January. The voters' meeting of which he spoke was the previous October. “Six months to raise $750k!?” I practically shrieked. “No,” was the answer. “Six months to raise whatever the Lord feels will be enough for a down payment. Whatever it is, it is – we'll trust that the Lord knows the future, will have provided what is sufficient for us now, and will continue to provide in His good time according to His plan for us.”
How pious! I thought – while at the same time thinking, This has got to be the worst Stewardship I have ever heard of! Needless to say, I didn't support this project at all. Out loud, I said something like, “Well, good luck with that...”
Apparently, I wasn't the only one in the congregation who thought this was nuts. The senior men of the congregation – the successful businessmen, the one's with a lifetime of real experience behind them, and the one's who had been pushed out of leadership but were still called upon by the congregation to finance their existence, and this project in particular – thought it was nuts, as well. Not only was a mere pittance collected for down payment, but the project was scrapped at the next Voters meeting. I don't know the details, but somebody had a “Come to Jesus Meeting” with somebody.
God's plan was evidently a little different than what the glory seekers had in mind. A modest addition was built a few years later, but even then need was secondary to the main criterion, If we build it, they will come. Well, they didn't come, and numbers continued to decline. Not until long after we started reaching out into the community did this trend reverse – reaching out, not with advertisements and promotion of the congregation, and not with "felt-needs programs," but with a direct and substantive message of Law and Gospel.
Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Freddy Finkelstein on Building Evangelism":
Freddy Finkelstein, I bet the congregation you were at had their loan request turned down, and that's when they saw the light and reduced expectations. It's funny how the Spirit can supposedly be leading a congregation in one direction, but then reality sets it. Perhaps it was the "spirit" of ambition after all? Or ignorance is bliss?
That reminds me of the WELS missions that had to be curtailed due to this current recession. I could hardly believe my ears when I heard from two different pastors a year ago that those missions and called missionaries were wanted by God at those locations, so the WELS's pulling back a little was only because of sin by WELS members. It's almost as though the WELS was conquering Canaan, and because the WELSians didn't try hard enough, they sinned due to unbelief. The Israelites though saw God and were commanded directly to conquer, but the WELS has no such direct line to God, despite what some pastors think.
Back to the building issue. A similar thing happened at our church. The pastor wanted a $100k addition to the parsonage, even though the houses in the neighborhood around the church sold for $80k, and some were even smaller and sold for less. Talk of this went on for an entire year! Fortunately, someone pointed out that you can't sell even a McMansion for substantially more than the average price of a house on the block where it is located. In other words, if the church closed or moved, we'd never be able to get our money back on a McMansion-parsonage! So a more modest addition to the parsonage was approved.