Facilities & Ministry Question #2 - How can our congregation make the best ministry use of our existing facility resources?

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In our continuing series on “facilities and ministry” we move on to a second question for congregational leaders to consider:  How can we make the best ministry use of our existing facilities?

When I arrived at four of the five congregations to which I have been appointed, significant areas of their facilities were unused or used for only one hour a week.  Previously members of these congregations had sacrificed to make these facilities available for use in Christ’s ministry.  Now these resources sat as unused as an 8-track tape-player in the attic or that stroller in the garage that hasn’t rolled a baby in seventeen years or that boat that hasn’t floated in a decade and now sits rotting and rusting in the backyard.  

Jesus told the parable of the talents in which various amounts of money were given to several managers to invest.  The one with the most resources invests and doubles what was given him, and is praised for this.  The one with fewer resources invests and doubles what was given him, and is praised for this.  But the one with the fewest resources was scared and decided simply to insure that he could hold onto the resources that were given him; and for this he is sharply criticized and what little he has is taken away.   Applying this to our discussion, we can conclude that the building resources which today’s congregational leaders have to use as a result of the faithful generosity of persons in previous years are intended by Christ to be invested in Kingdom ministry now, not just buried under the dirt of disuse for “safe keeping.” 

As some congregations have shrunk through the years, room after room and even whole floors or wings fall into disuse – except for possibly storing other things no longer being invested in Christ’s causes.  The primary reason this happens is that “we” no longer need to use them.  In other words, the current members don’t need them for the ministry they have been receiving and doing.  But how can these unused resources be used as blessings for others in the community?  What needs in the community might be met by using these building resources in creative ministries the congregation has not previously considered for themselves or known were needed by others?  How might the congregation be more faithful and fruitful in ministry today by using the facility resources entrusted them?

Here are some ways I have seen congregations invest their unused building resources in ministry that has been a blessing to others.  This list is exemplary only.  With Spirit-breathed creativity and courage, congregational leaders can discern many other uses for fallow facilities. 

 One congregation offered for Meals-On-Wheels to use their professional kitchen every weekday.  Previously the congregation used their kitchen only to make coffee for Sunday School and to host covered-dish dinners several times a year.

 Another congregation invited an Alcoholics Anonymous group to meet in a Sunday School room that otherwise was used only one hour a week.

 A scout troop found a home in one church facility that had unused Sunday School rooms.  More than just offering them a room, congregational leaders creatively sought for ways to support and connect to the scout troop families.

 One small congregation started an adult day care ministry and another an after school tutoring ministry in fellowship halls that were used minimally only over the weekends.

 Counseling offices were established in one church’s unused Sunday School rooms.  Another established a legal aid clinic for immigrants. 

 One congregation collaborated with the city recreation department to host a summer youth and children’s program using space the congregation seldom entered anymore.

• A community basketball league was offered space in one church with a gym they seldom used.  Members of the congregation were intentional about being present when games were played in order to build relationships with the people involved.  This became a significant source of new youth in their previously declining youth ministry.

• One large declining Anglo congregation invited a growing ethnic UM congregation in their community to share their facilities.  Rather than seeing them as “renters invading their space,” the host congregation saw themselves as expanding their ministry and looked for ways to build community and share decision making about the building with the other congregation.

• One congregation invited a ministry to developmentally disabled persons to hold weekly worship services in their seldom used chapel. 

• Some congregations have started thrift stores for poorer person in their community, not as fund-raising ventures, but in order to bless others with unused and seldom used resources with which they have been entrusted.

 A group of men, who enjoyed working on cars, cleaned out an exterior storage area of useless stuff and began offering a weekly car clinic for single mothers and elderly who needed help maintaining their vehicles. 

 Another congregation discovered by talking with community leaders that there were needs for parenting classes, marriage enrichment classes, family financial management classes, literacy classes and English as a second language classes in the community.  They began partnering with another congregation to experiment offering classes open to the community in rooms that were seldom used. 

Have the leaders in your congregation been invited to remember that “our” facilities belong first to Christ and that one day they will have to give an accounting to Christ of how they invested His building resources creatively in Christ’s work in the world?

The next question in our “ministry and facilities” series will be: Has our ministry taken a back seat to maintaining our facilities?

Dr Jeff Stiggins
Office of Congregational Transformation



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