A congregation of Seventh-day Adventists in Ecuador used to moving from rental to rental for church services will be worshiping in a permanent church building by the end of the month.
Their church will arrive as ready-to-assemble steel beams in the back of a pick-up truck, and set up will take as little as six hours.
The church is part of a project meant to help handle some 80,000 similar church requests pending at Maranatha Volunteers International, a Christian lay organization that builds churches and schools for the Adventist Church around the world.
A joint venture of Adventist-Laymen’s Services and Industries and Maranatha, the “one-day” church project is expected to help church infrastructure catch up with membership in regions with soaring church growth, Adventist leaders said during April 6 Spring Meetings.
“This is the answer we have been waiting for,” said Geoffrey Mbwana, leader of the Adventist Church in East-Central Africa. “Our resource base is so scarce that we have not kept pace in housing our members,” he added, explaining the challenges of rapid church growth in countries such as Congo.
Permanent churches encourage membership retention and act as “endowments for the future” of the church, said Garwin McNeilus, an ASI member and Adventist businessman who helped develope the one-day church concept.
“Every time a congregation moves, you lose about 30 percent of the original membership,” said Maranatha president Don Noble. “So moving three times in a year would mean you’ve effectively lost all your original membership.”
Not only do one-day churches provide a sense of stability for members, but they also require members to “invest” in the structure itself, McNeilus said—members must finish their church’s walls with bricks, bamboo or any other readily available, durable building material.
Designed by structural engineers, the rust-resistant galvanized steel structures can withstand termites, earthquakes, Class 3 hurricanes and cover the most expensive part of church building: the roof, McNeilus said. Many churches partially constructed during short-term mission trips are left unfinished because local members don’t have the money or the resources to finish the roof, he explained.
“In some of these places, you drive down a road and see building after building up to the roof level, and they just sit there and deteriorate,” said Robert E. Lemon, world church treasurer, speaking of his years living in Africa.
Each standard-size church seats approximately 150 people, but can be expanded and even tweaked into a school or pastor’s house, McNeilus said. While ASI and Maranatha leaders can’t yet project the exact expense of a one-day church—currency fluctuations, import duties, and shifting steel prices vary estimates—Noble said planners are targeting a cost of $3,000-$4,000 per church.
While ASI will handle the manufacture of one-day churches, Maranatha will ensure the churches get delivered and built, Noble said. “We won’t just ship the church and say, ‘Good luck.’ There’ll be supervision at first. But our members are creative and can figure it out.”