Essentials

Space has an important relationship to faith, but “space” does not automatically equal “church building.” I have served six congregations over 30+ years in ministry. Each was an established church which had moved into its current building as early as 1892 or as recently as 1985. Of those six churches, what if they were asked the question: “Is this location and building essential to this congregation’s ministry?” My answer would be yes for one building for sure – it sits in a strategic downtown location that serves a regional congregation and immediate, local mission needs. Another one…probably: it is on the main street of its community, next to the local library and adjacent to the heart of the community. Both of these congregations use their location to serve immediate needs in the community where even a re-location of a dozen blocks would isolate them from the people they serve.

The other four church spaces? They range from buildings in great shape to those with quite a bit of work ahead of them. There are good locations and locations that are hard to find, hard to get to, and marginal to the flow of the community. But none of them have a location or a space that is essential to their ministry and mission. There have been holy moments in those spaces. There are memories thick with the presence of God. But those holy moments, those thick memories – they are much more about the community that gathers and not essentially that place or that space.

A church building is a tool for ministry and mission.

A church building is a tool for ministry and mission.

For congregations that have a building, this needs to be a mantra for every proposal to “improve” or “renovate” or “modernize” parts of their space. It needs to be invoked during every building campaign. In those efforts, if there cannot be a straight line drawn between proposed plans about a church building and its impact on mission and on ministry, whatever that proposal is, it needs to be paused or stopped.

Earlier this year, at a conference about developing and cultivated resources for ministry, Arne Sorenson, Lutheran lay leader and CEO of Marriott, who has served “on more finance and building committees in my local congregation than I can count,” spoke of his concern about the “uneconomic buildings” that are hampering so many congregations. Sorenson noted two specific perils: uneconomic buildings prevented congregations from calling excellent pastors and compensating them fairly well, and they interfered with significant investment by congregations in their community through outreach and mission efforts.

Is the space – the location and building – that houses your congregation essential for your ministry and mission? Is your space – every bit of it – a tool for ministry and mission?

If the answer to either of these is maybe…or no…it is time to do a clear assessment of what your building gives you – and what it takes from you.

These are urgent times for the Church. There are many things that make effective mission and ministry difficult today. One of those should not include uneconomic buildings. Seriously, do you need to think about selling – or repurposing – your building?

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