I’m increasingly convinced that proximity to one’s church is exceedingly valuable. It allows for greater investment in a familiar location, for easy invitations to church, and for developing community with a flavor that’s being lost. My wife and I have no kids and are considering what’s next for us in terms of where we should live. Our church is in an urban setting, making places in close proximity and of decent space (for a budding family and for hospitality) very expensive. On just the other side of the highway—within a mile yet outside the church’s “neighborhood”—are houses both bigger and cheaper. How can we balance a wise use of money with a sense of conviction about being near our church?
These are great questions! Though I live in the suburbs, my husband and I considered participating in an urban church plant and spent many hours discussing the same issues.
My first practical suggestion is to invite your pastor to weigh in. Perhaps he’s been praying for a church member to get a bigger house that can be used for ministry initiatives, or perhaps he’ll share your concern that moving to the other side of the highway will inhibit your ability to connect neighbors with the church. He won’t tell you what to do, but he’ll probably offer input and ask questions that will help you weigh your options. Also talk with other families in your church—both those who live in close proximity and those who don’t. There’s much wisdom to garner from others when we think to ask.
In addition to that, here are two questions to explore.
1. How Can I Best Serve?
God has given each of us gifts for serving the church and advancing its mission. While we’re called to many things simply because we’re Christians—generosity, hospitality and service—we’re usually gifted in some ways more than others. And the size, cost, and location of our homes affects how we steward God’s gifts.
When we’re inclined to extend hospitality in one-on-one or small-group settings, a large home usually isn’t necessary. However, when we need a spare room because we hope to welcome foster children, or exchange students, or recovering addicts, a larger house better equips us for those purposes.
Remember that when—by necessity or choice—we live farther from our church than we’d want, it’s vital to plan and prioritize how to be involved in our church’s community. This might mean volunteering nearby or spending time at local parks, coffee shops, and festivals. While living outside of immediate proximity to our church presents challenges (particularly in an urban context), it also gives us opportunities to build relationships with neighbors the congregation wouldn’t otherwise reach.
Consider the gifts God has given you and your spouse, and think through how you can employ those gifts in either setting. This will help “tip the scale” as you evaluate both options.
2. What Do I Really Need?
Wherever we move, it’s important to think of “need” through a Spirit-transformed lens. The average home’s square footage is continually increasing in America, now ranking second-largest in the world (after Australia). This trend tempts many of us to assume we need more space than we actually do.
Though it frustrates our own sensibilities to pay more and get less, sometimes God calls us to invest in smaller homes because those are the neighborhoods where he’s deployed us. We can trust him in this, knowing that even small homes can bless our families and be used hospitably.
My relatively small house limits how we show hospitality. People end up on the floor during small-group meetings; we eat in “shifts” when families come over; and sometimes guests have to suck in their stomachs to squeeze past chairs and reach the refrigerator. I have friends with even smaller homes who practice hospitality on a regular basis. Sometimes we just need to adjust our expectations of what “hospitality” should look like.
Smallness can also be a blessing.
Smallness can also be a blessing. Having no storage space mitigates many temptations toward materialism. After all, where would we even fit that new thing we want? Having tight quarters also means no family member can hide in isolation—a reality that’s often frustrating yet encourages regular interaction. In a time when loneliness has reached epidemic proportions, this proximity is a profoundly healthy thing.
As you deliberate, keep your heart rooted in contentment, remembering that all of your resources—your house, your money, your time—belong to God. Godly stewardship might mean buying the cheaper house so that you can welcome more people and give more generously. Or it might mean stewarding your finances into a higher mortgage so that you can reach a specific neighborhood. Either way, it’s all from him, and it’s all for him.
When faced with these types of decisions, we long for a clear sense of “calling,” which God may not provide. Such lack of clarity can cripple our decision-making. Remember, though, that God has not left you alone. He has surrounded you with fellow believers who can offer counsel, and he has given you his Spirit. As the Spirit renews your mind, he also renews your ability to reason. Walk in humility, and he will help you navigate the gray areas of life with wisdom and discernment.