Deferred maintenance. Utility rates on the rise. Cobwebs.
These are a few of the laments heard among many churches these days. Church edifices built in previous eras reflect the high aspirations and even presumptions about the usefulness of such space and property in the coming generations.
As I journey with congregations dealing with property and financial management challenges, I observe that it's a shame church buildings cannot shrink or expand to match the present day congregation's needs. More often than not, a church built for hundreds in mind now is the management challenge of the dozen(s) who gather for worship each Sunday. A Midwestern ELCA bishop was known for saying around his metropolitan area synod that he never imagined his skill sets should have included "landlord", as small member congregations opted to merge, move on, or close, leaving the judicatory with the challenge of older structures with sometimes little possibility for redevelopment (sacred or secular alike). The bishop found realtors his newest closely consulted advisors!
For some churches, missional thinking can help reframe the questions and challenges in ways that move a congregation away from feeling "stuck". A dusty church nursery can turn into a community-need serving opportunity (i.e. inviting a non-profit to share space with a congregation or creating a food pantry ministry). With a few good questions, a congregation can see a different sort of future than the two most dwelled upon: some sort of divine intervention out of left field or the prospect of just throwing in the towel.
ABC NYS offers support for congregations wanting to explore good conversations about their presence in a local community. The building you worship in could be underutilized in its possibility, or it could be time to have a conversation about whether or not a given facility realistically should be part of a church's future. The church is ultimately the people of God, not necessarily the steeple long familiar in a congregation and community's memory.
One ABC NYS church celebrates this weekend a milestone in their journey. First Baptist, Poughkeepsie, NY, sold their historic downtown church and relocated to a new building elsewhere in town. I'm working with the minister and church leadership to have additional conversations now that the congregation has relocated. Being in a new neighborhood with a new facility raises a new set of variables to explore as a congregation. Who are we now that we are here in this particular space and place in the community?
In my words of greeting and congratulations to the congregation, I offer these words of blessing:
May your new church home be:
a sacred place where people learn to share the gospel in deed and word alike;
a welcoming space where souls can be tended and mended,
an open door into the Kingdom/Reign of God
for those who are in need of love, care, dignity and inclusion;
a hub for mission within and beyond these walls;
a collection of bricks and mortar, all too temporal and temporary,
yet well blessed in its holy purposes
for a holy people in worship and service to the most holy Triune God.