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On the Height of the Buildings in Heaven

March 6th, 2011 | 2 min read

By Jeremy Mann

Ever wonder about the buildings in heaven? And the block sizes?

Two articles sparked similar thinking the other day. The first is in the most recent Atlantic, from Harvard economist and polymath Edward Glaeser. It's about how skyscrapers promote human flourishing by pushing the price of space down and density up: the key ingredients for vibrant culture and business. It takes an especially interesting turn when Glaeser explains how Mumbai is failing its poor people by restricting building height:

Limiting heights didn’t stop urban growth, it just ensured that more and more immigrants would squeeze into squalid, illegal slums rather than occupying legal apartment buildings…Mumbai is short, so everyone sits in traffic and pays dearly for space…An abundance of close and connected vertical real estate would decrease the pressure on roads, ease the connections that are the lifeblood of a 21st-century city, and reduce Mumbai’s extraordinarily high cost of space. Yet instead of encouraging compact development, Mumbai is pushing people out.

The second article is by big-deal pastor Tim Keller, who catalogs the differences between different-sized churches. He puts the parting shot in someone else's mouth, but it’s a bomb either way:

Schaller shows that the very large church is more accessible and capable of reaching young people, single people, the unchurched, and seekers than smaller churches are. He then poses a question: If the need for very large churches is so great, why are there so few? Why don’t more churches (a) allow the senior pastor to become less accessible, (b) allow the staff to have more power than the board, (c) allow a small body of execu­tive staff to have more decision-making power than the larger staff or congregation, or (d) allow directors more power to hire competent workers and release generalists? His main answer is that the key to the very large church culture is trust. In smaller churches, suspicious people are much happier…The larger the church gets, however, the more and more the congregation has to trust the staff, and especially the senior pastor…ultimately a very large church runs on trust.

To be fair to Keller, he says earlier in the article that different-sized churches shouldn’t be judgmental toward one another, but the implication is clear: to reach the unchurched, we need to get over our big church hang-ups. Or, put another way, we need to figure out how to make big churches better.

I’m interested in whether these two articles bear some mutually-informing relationship to one another. Maybe I'm reaching, but maybe not. The deep magic is everywhere.