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1 Peter 2:4-10

The talk

During 2014 and 2015, the all age worship services at St James Muswell Hill followed a theme. In 2014 it was the story of Joseph, and in 2015 we looked at Peter, and his relationship with Jesus. This talk (which can be found on the church web site) was about us as living stones, and Jesus as the cornerstone of his people the church.

The talk was in two parts. In the first part I said that I had been to Ikea and bought a flat pack self assembly DIY church building. This was made of cardboard boxes. I decided not to use the instructions, and threw away one box because it was a different size to all the others. But it all went wrong and the church building turned out wonky.

Then I found the proper instructions, which said - in Swedish and English - "read the Bible." (I even checked with a Swedish speaker to make sure I had the pronunciation of Kyrka and Läsa Bibeln correct - if you don't know any Swedes, Google translate will read it out to you.) So 1 Peter 2:4-10 was read, while I dismantled the boxes.

In the second part of the talk I explained that we are living stones, and we must have Jesus as the corner stone of our church. Peter is not talking about buildings - he's talking about Christ's people loving each other and sharing in our worship of Jesus, with everything we do dependant on him. And to emphasise that we are living stones, I gave out stickers with outlines of people on them. The congregation drew their own faces and wrote their own names on the stickers, and stuck them on the cardboard boxes.

I retrieved the box I had rejected - Jesus' box, labelled "corner stone" - and then reassembled the building. It went together perfectly this time, with Jesus as the cornerstone. To finish it off, I fixed his cross to the spire.

The visual aid

The boxes came from Ikea. They were all 'Tjena' boxes, which come in a variety of sizes:

  • A: 13cm wide x 26cm deep x 10cm high
  • B: 27cm wide x 35cm deep x 20cm high
  • C: 32cm wide x 35cm deep x 32cm high
  • D: 27cm wide x 35cm deep x 10cm high

The ABCD is nothing to do with Ikea - it gives you a key to the pictures which you can download as a pdf. I used 6 type A, 11 type B, 2 type C and 5 type D. Assembled and with the spire and other bits, they (just) fitted in the back of my VW Beetle.

Of course you can use any sort of boxes - you don't have to use Ikea's. However, their boxes are white - not that normal grubby brown cardboard box colour. And they are reasonably priced, and you buy them flat packed and - best of all for these purposes - they come with additional bits of white cardboard that you can make into a spire, or a roof, or whatever.

I made the visual aid like this:

  • two type B boxes (B2 and B3 in the diagrams) were made a bit taller so that, with another type B on top, they would be the same height as a type C with a type D on top (42cm). And in the wonky church building, they would add to the wonkiness. I cut four pieces of the spare card, cut half way through them and bent them to make L shapes. Then I stuck them inside the corners of the box with PVA glue so they protruded by 2cm from the top of the box. I marked these boxes B+ on the underside so I could identify them quickly during the talk.
  • then I assembled all the boxes, glued bits of white card inside the lifting holes (possibly a bit fussy, that) and fixed the lids in place.
  • I made the spire and bits of roof and other architectural features using the spare card that came with the Tjena boxes. I'm not going to give detailed instructions, because you should make a cardboard church building that looks exactly like your building, and not like St James'.
  • I used white 'duck tape' for most of the sticking, but it didn't stick terribly well to Tjena boxes.
  • I printed a piece of paper with "corner stone" on it - substituting a cross for the "t" - and stuck it on a type C box. I bought two of these boxes and, in the first part of the talk, rejected the blank one. I didn't want to give away the corner stone point at this stage.
  • Finally I drew some outlines of people and copied them onto A6 size stickers that I had bought from Ryman's. You can download this pdf of the people outlines - but do a dry run first to make sure they come out in the right place on your stickers.
  • The cross on the spire was one of those Palm Sunday crosses made of palm leaf. You probably have at least four in your house somewhere.

With the spire, this was close to 3m tall. I built it on a table so that the folk at the back could see, and to add another metre or so to the height. It was a bit of a stretch to get the spire on. It is worth making it as big as possible so it looks big even from the back.

Finally, don't forget to emphasise that, although this visual aid is of a church building, the church is the people, and Jesus is part of the church.

cardboard box church
A church building made of cardboard boxes


topl instructions
Topl - wonky church building - instructions. Download as a pdf and print as big as possible (I printed it A0 size). Except for the wonky church building at top left, all these images were copied from real Ikea instruction leaflets, downloaded from their web site.

I particularly like this one: I feel like that after assembling Ikea furniture. (Actually it's for a reclining chair.)

wonky church
Topl the wonky church building. Note: no corner stone. You can also download this as a pdf. The black rectangles are the lifting holes in the narrow ends of the boxes. The other boxes - with a "w" next to the number - have the wide side facing this way.

proper church instructions
Instructions for the proper church which I also printed A0 size. This is in the same pdf as the Topl instructions.

Proper church
The proper church building. The corner stone is box C1, bottom right. This is in the same pdf as the drawing of the wonky church building .

real St James
Here's the real St James building. Notice the uncanny similarity that my cardboard church building has to it.

People outlines for the stickers. Again you can download a pdf of these.


Desert island church by John Parker. Contact me via the about page. Text and images copyright © 2016 John Parker www.desertislandchurch.co.uk.