Can Churches Provide Kitchen Facilities And Fellowship Areas In
by Ian Coker
Questions of this nature tend to create confusion, ill-will, and all manner
of reaction, as much out of a misunderstanding of congregational autonomy and
freedom, as anything else. Tragically, it is often those who demand autonomy
for themselves who wish to take it from others.
The Bible does not teach that a church has to have a kitchen or fellowship
area, because, in point of fact, it does not teach a church has to have any
building as such. Churches can, in pursuing worthy goals in their communities,
decide it is not expedient to have such. Some congregations have been blessed
by having individual brethren with home-based facilities that are spacious
enough to allow the entire congregation to practice Acts 2:42, 46. This is all
fine and good. But because a congregation chooses to operate this way does not
necessarily imply that that congregation believes church buildings with
kitchens and fellowship areas are unscriptural or works of the Devil.
But no one congregation is able to impose its own particular standard upon
another whose situation is perhaps completely different. In Toowoomba we don’t
have a fellowship hall as such - we use the auditorium for worship and
fellowship. We see no need and have no plans to spend money on such (at the
present, at least). We have a small kitchen area with a sink (used mainly for
washing up the communion glasses), a hot water system (used mainly for heating
the baptistry), a small fridge (used mainly for storing the communion food),
and a microwave (used mainly for heating my coffee when I’m at the office!).
We see no need and have no plans to enlarge it in our present circumstances.
But I could imagine a scenario where a kitchen of some substance might be
very important to the work of a congregation - eg. emergency help in natural
disasters, or in depressed areas where members practice benevolence toward
large numbers of people continually. In a similar vein, medical facilities can
be of great importance to a church in, say, a third-world country, whereas
with our medical infrastructure we see no need.
I could even imagine a basketball hoop in the church parking area could be
a valuable tool if the church was in a ghetto-type area that lacked space for
neighbourhood children to play on. It could be a valuable community service to
help keep children off the streets, but I would hardly be in a position to
accuse that church of being in the sporting business! But we have no plans for
such in Toowoomba. We do have neighbourhood children who come to skate on our
parking lot - we don’t feel like we need to supply them with skateboards, but
we are pleased to have them there, believing it is safer than the streets -
and besides, how much real-estate and plant in the brotherhood sits around
unused most of the time? Is this good stewardship? We also have some local
workers who use our parking area during the week, as do some bowlers from the
neighbouring bowls club, so that the roads and footpaths are not cluttered up.
While we are happy for them to do that, we see no need to purchase their cars
But the question under discussion is not the expediency of such questions,
or the grading of the wisdom of each church in the particular use of their
building and money. Rather it is a more basic question, the more important
question of whether it is scriptural in the first place for a congregation to
have a kitchen or fellowship area etc. If it is, then sister congregations
need to allow congregations the freedom to decide how they choose to avail
themselves of such options.
The Bible does not answer the question of kitchens and fellowship areas
directly (i.e. specifically, by name). Therefore we must look for biblical
principles by which we can decide the truth of the matter. And this is not an
uncommon thing, for by a strange twist of irony, we must do this with respect
to church buildings before we can ever discuss what we are going to put in
As Robert Turner said in the September, 1971 edition of Plain Talk, a
church building is “an expedient, subordinate to the command to assemble:” I
think most of us are of the persuasion that church buildings are scriptural on
the basis they are an expedient to help us carry out the command to assemble.
We have one in Toowoomba but I can readily envisage that in a larger city with
higher real-estate values, it may be more expedient to rent a school, C.W.A.
Hall, or use a home. Again, the local church is best placed to sort out the
best approach for their needs.
Most congregations which have a church building use them no more than three
or four times a week. On what basis is this expense justified? Purely on the
grounds of expediency, there being no direct command to purchase or build one.
This is similar to the same expediency that allowed Jews to build
synagogues throughout the world - and which, incidentally, Jesus was pleased
to attend (Luke 4:16). The Jews even allowed Romans to make contributions to
their synagogue - Luke 7:1,5 (Jesus preached in such - Mark 1:21).
My point is this, in case you haven’t already seen it: in justifying a
church building we have already answered the question about kitchens and
fellowship areas! All we have to do is find out whether the Bible teaches
fellowship is a required church activity. I don’t want to beg your
intelligence and knowledge by proving that God intended fellowship to be a
part of congregational life since the beginning in Jerusalem (Acts 2:42,46).
Since it is, then we must leave it to each congregation to assess their needs
and decide how best to fulfil this requirement. I am not here arguing that it
is not possible for congregations to overindulge in such amenities anymore
than it is impossible for congregations to overindulge in facilities for
I say again, if a congregation can justify the spending of thousands upon
thousands of dollars on land and buildings, as well as the continuing rates
and maintenance expenses, solely for the purpose of assembling for a few hours
a week for worship and Bible study, it’s hard for me to imagine why any could
deny the right to use the building for the purpose of fellowship -
particularly when it makes the building more practical and of better value. I
know some congregations have a hierarchy of comparative levels of importance
of worship and fellowship, but they don’t do that on any scriptural basis. The
Bible commands both.
And again, I am not saying that churches must incorporate fellowship areas
in their buildings. In Toowoomba we often have fellowship lunches in local
parks and B-B-Q areas, but we also choose to have them in the building from
time to time for the same reason we worship in the building - sometimes it
rains, blows, gets cold, is dark etc.
I asked a brother one time whether it would be right for us to move the
seats back to the walls in the auditorium to create a fellowship area.
Realising it would be foolish in the extreme to say that seats (how do we
justify them and their expense?) have to remain in certain positions in a
church building, he answered ‘yes’. Yet he believed it was wrong to have a
‘fellowship area’ in the building. So, as you can see, the issue was really
condensed to an issue of expediency and value judgments of stewardship. That
is, it was alright to have a fellowship area provided one did not spend money
on it beyond what was spent for the worship area! Whilst we all think that
wisdom will die with us, and have our own pet peeves and ideas about what the
church should spend its money on, we must not make rules where God has not
made them! Since we can justify a fellowship area by expediency, would it then
make sense to say that we could use the fellowship area for worship but we
couldn’t justify a separate worship area? And you know, a kitchen area is so
simple and inexpensive. Regulations require toilets, so plumbing is a part of
any church building and to run a line to a tap over a sink is hardly major
It’s interesting to walk through church buildings and consider what is
there. A brief look around our building in Toowoomba revealed toilets, TV,
tract-racks, telephones, tape-recorders and typewriter; signs, shelves song
books and sills; mirrors and motormower; pigeonholes, photocopier and
projectors; video-player and vacuum-cleaner; radio and rubbish bins; cryroom
with cots, classrooms and clocks; whiteboards and blackboards; heaters and
fans and a fax machine; fire hose, filing cabinets and fire-extinguishers; not
to mention Bibles, books, maps, gardens, noticeboards, potplants, over head
projector, buckets and brooms. It seems we have so many things not
specifically mentioned in Scripture that we have little difficulty in
justifying by the expediency principle. Brother Turner went on to say in that
same article that he believed the church building could be used for weddings
and funerals, even though he called a wedding a ‘social-civil’ affair. I doubt
whether many of us would argue with him on that, and so it seems the question
usually gets reduced, not to whether we eat and drink in the building, but to
a question concerning the church’s treasury. Many who would not object to
eating and drinking in the church building, would do so if any money from the
treasury was spent on such. The church treasury has always been a problem:
Judas objected to Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with expensive ‘ointment’,
saying that it would have been better sold and given to the poor. “This he
said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the
bag, and bare what was put therein” (John 12:6).
Forgetting the treasury for a moment, what would we say if a brother wanted
to bless the body of Christ by paying for a ‘fellowship extension’ to the
building, complete with sink, taps, fridge and oven? There would be some who
would argue he could spend his money in a better way, but, again, that is a
matter of opinion.
If Mary could pour out a working man’s yearly salary in one brief
expression of love, with Jesus’ approval, who are we to judge what a brother
may be pleased to do? So, the brother puts on the fellowship hall and the
church now has use of the area. Do they sin in using it? On what basis?
Brethren can’t use the treasury argument on that one. Now suppose the brother
couldn’t do it on his own and so he enlists the aid of some others to supply a
fellowship hall. Would this be alright? Suppose the whole congregation chipped
in to provide it? If this is not right, why is it not right when the whole
congregation can ‘chip in’ to provide worship facilities? What is the magic
‘cut-off’ number that turns it from right to wrong?
But getting back to the treasury. What is it and where is it defined? It is
often used as a synonym for the “Lord’s money”, but what is the Lord’s money?
Isn’t it all His and isn’t it the case that he has been pleased to place us as
stewards over it? V.P. Black visited a congregation one time where a brother
confided in him that “someone has been stealing the Lord’s money” (meaning
from the plate). The man was shocked when Brother Black said that it was
happening in congregations all over the land! What he meant was that when
brethren don’t give as they have been blessed, they are stealing the “Lord’s
money”. But, you see, brethren don’t think it is the “Lord’s money” if they
withhold it. And I’m convinced that brethren wouldn’t be so finicky about how
the ‘treasury’ is spent if they gave more. Usually the treasury cupboard is so
strapped, only ‘essentials’ can be financed.
I’m not suggesting that the church ought to get involved in spending money
on everything that individuals may be pleased to. The church does have a
primary function in the world that directs its spending. A church that used
its treasury in providing entertainment for the world has a twisted priority.
But for the life of me, since fellowship is part of what God has commanded for
the church, surely the church ought to be willing to invest something to aid
this activity. Surely the church can fellowship in homes, but so can she
worship, and we feel justified in spending for worship facilities. What I’m
suggesting is a little consistency in our thinking.
So much of our distinctions between the ‘Lord’s money’ and ‘our money’ is
arbitrary - i.e. according to our own personal whims and fancies and
perceptions. When the church in Toowoomba has a fellowship meal together, we
are faced with two basic options - either one provides the food or everyone
contributes. Usually we opt for the latter as it is fairer (generally
speaking). but what have we done? Haven’t we created a treasury of sorts out
of which we have supplied food for a fellowship meal, whether eaten in a home
or not? The individual components of the case say that we have - individual
members have contributed to a common cause, which is exactly what happens in
our regular contributions. Why then can’t we provide the food for such out of
the regular treasury? Usually for no other reason than we would feel
uncomfortable about it and that the regular contribution is already ear-marked
for other projects. If we say we have robbed the treasury to feed ourselves,
where did the money come from? Isn’t it money that members could have put in
the treasury over and above their regular contribution?
I’m not advocating a system that destroys personal responsibilities (1 Tim.
5:4, 8, 16), but rather addressing the question of the church collectively
fulfilling a congregational activity. I suspect many of the arbitrary views
held on this subject have come about, in part, because of the prevalence of
smaller congregations which do not need fellowship areas and/or kitchens to
carry out the biblical injunction to fellowship - a member’s home is quite
adequate. But I don’t think there was a member’s home in Jerusalem that could
house the congregation for either worship or fellowship. (Apparently they used
the temple’s precincts - Acts 2:46). If we were members of a congregation that
numbered in the thousands we might have a different view on the need for
fellowship and kitchen facilities.
I heard of a brother of many years ago who did not think it was right to
eat in the church building. A preacher by the name of W.L. Totty was visiting
and this brother asked him about eating in the church building. He replied,
“It is alright, otherwise the mothers with babies in the assemblies of the
church would have to leave to feed them, for if they fed them in the building
they would not be bringing them up in the nurture of the Lord, if it is wrong
to eat in the church building”.
G.K. Wallace arrived at a building to preach a mission and a sister in the
Lord accosted him and said, “Brother Wallace, this church has a kitchen in
it!” He acted surprised and said “You don’t mean it!” Thinking she had him on
side she said, “Yes, it really does!”. Then Brother Wallace asked, “Who
baptised the kitchen?”
Paul’s instructions to the church in Corinth in 11:34 of the first letter
has, on occasion, been used to say that it is wrong to eat in the church
building. A little thought will reveal that if Paul is restricting eating for
hunger’s sake to the home, then we cannot lawfully eat at another’s home, go
on a picnic, or eat at a restaurant! And, if the church in that locality met
in a brother’s home, could he obey the supposed injunction to not eat in the
church building? I think we can understand that Paul is simply giving advice
to counter an abuse in their fellowship caused by the factions there.
Having made mention of that point, I firmly believe we have made progress
on that point over the last 30 years. Most brethren now accept the idea that
the church building is just a building and we do not violate it by eating in
it. For some, the issue is not “Does the church have a right to eat in its
meeting place?” but “Does the church have the right to eat together in
fellowship meals?” There is no great doctrinal stress on this because it is a
‘given’ that fellowship, whether in Old testament or New, in eastern or
western culture, includes the idea of sharing a meal together. 2 Peter 2:13
and Jude 12 are obvious references to this practice. It is a ludicrous
position that says Christians, who enjoy the finest and closest fellowship in
the world, cannot eat together. It’s funny how members of the church will sit
down to celebratory meals as part of fellowship with their physical family,
but invent some rule eliminating such from fellowship with their Christian
I think, though, that these are few and far between, and that most can
understand that a basic definition of fellowship Includes the idea of eating
together. (It’s funny, those who accuse the church of gluttony and worldliness
in so doing, don’t seem to think they are guilty of the same things when they
feast with their relatives and friends).
So the issue really comes down to whether the church, in practicing her God
given right and expectation to share meals together, has the right to provide
the place and means to eat them. I believe she does, but I will leave it up to
each congregation to decide whether they want a fellowship hall and kitchen.