“What’s with the latest trend of churches calling their site a campus instead of a church? What’s behind it, and should I support it or oppose it?”
Many of you are thinking, “Yeah, I’ve been asking that question myself.”
About as many are shaking your heads, wondering, “What? This is an issue? Since when?”
Then there’s a final group whose response is, “Churches are calling themselves campuses now? That’s news to me.”
These responses usually fall along age lines. If you’re younger or have come into the church in the last decade, you may not be aware of this shift because it may be all you’ve known. If you’re 40-plus or have been in church circles for 20 years or more, this is a new way of talking that you may not understand, or you may not have heard about.
Whatever your response, this short article will answer your questions by giving three simple reasons for the change, followed by how to respond to someone who thinks differently than you.
My take? Using “campus” instead of “church” is a better way to refer to buildings and land. I wholeheartedly support it.
Here are three reasons, the first two are practical, the third is theological:
1. Many Churches Have More Than One Location
The catalyst for this change is the rise of multi-site churches.
When a church meets at several locations, they need a term for their sites that doesn’t make them sound like separate churches. Since “campus” has already been in long-time use by universities and colleges for the same reasons, it’s a simple, understandable term for churches to adopt.
For instance, if Restoration Church has services in three locations (Main Street, 23rd Avenue, and the Sawyer School) referring to each location as a church is confusing, but a phrase such as “Restoration Church, Main Street campus” is simple and clear.
Thus, “One church, many locations” is a common saying for many multi-site churches.
This is also a helpful distinction when you have an online church option. If the building is the “church” then your online worshipers are not in it. By referring to the building as a campus, it’s clear that online worshipers are part of the church, even if they’re not onsite.
2. Many Churches Have No Permanent Location
Many churches are mobile, meeting in schools, theaters, coffee shops, or homes. Sometimes it’s because they’re a new church plant. Increasingly it’s a permanent decision not to be tied down to a mortgage and facility upkeep.
Whatever the reasons, mobile churches are just as valid as those that have a permanent building with a steeple. But it makes no sense to refer to a hybrid building that serves several disparate functions as a “church.” Mobile churches don’t use the word campus as often as churches with several permanent locations, but it’s the same principle.
3. Theologically, The Church Is Not A Building
Most of our building-focused church ideas are theologically problematic.
Biblically, the church is people, not a building. We all know this.
Nowhere in the New Testament is the identity of the church connected to any kind of building. When it’s used in universal terms, “church” refers to people in any place or time who are followers of Jesus. In local terms, there is often an identifying place mentioned (like the seven cities of Revelation 2-3), but “church” is still used to refer to the people. Never, ever to a building.
Comparing church buildings to the Old Testament temple is equally problematic. Again, the New Testament evidence is overwhelming. God’s people are the temple of the Holy Spirit, not a building. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:14-18; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:5)
It’s important for us to use language and images that support and clarify our theology, not confuse it. So, even if your church has one permanent site, using a word like “campus” for your building helps to keep the word “church” reserved for the people.
(BTW, given my take on this, I get the irony of naming my podcast The Church Lobby. But “The Campus Lobby” would be weird and confusing. Language is a work in progress.)
If You Don’t Like The Change
If you’re having a hard time getting used to referring to a church building as a campus, I get it. But I want to encourage you in two ways.
It’s not a “compromise,” “trying to be cool,” or “giving into the culture” to call the property a campus. (All quotes I’ve actually seen or heard.) In many ways, it’s a desire to use language that’s not just clearer, but more theologically accurate.
Second, ask yourself where your discomfort is coming from.
For most people, it’s simply not what you’re used to. When you’ve spent much of your life saying “meet me at the church,” it’s a learning curve to say “meet at the downtown campus of First Church” instead.
If You Don’t Get What The Big Deal Is
Lastly, if you’ve got no problem with using “campus” but you’re frustrated by anyone who can’t get on board with it, pause for a moment and have some grace. Change is hard. The faithful people who got us where we are deserve our respect as they try to navigate this new language.
So, the next time they say “church” instead of “campus” don’t correct them, love them and thank them.
That’s what we’re taught to do with an unchurched person who doesn’t know the insider lingo. Our seasoned saints deserve no less.
(Photo by Sandro Gonzalez | Unsplash)