Facilities & Ministry Question #1 - What sort of facilities does your ministry actually need?

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 In our last CT Blog, we began talking about the relationship between ministry and facilities.  More persons responded to that entry than any previous entry, suggesting that this is an issue with which many of us are struggling.  As promised, in this and subsequent entries, six questions will be shared that I hope will prove helpful for congregational leaders exploring the relationship between ministry and facilities in their own context. 

#1   What sort of facilities does our congregation actually need to fulfill the ministry to which Christ calls us?

My father was an architect that designed many church facilities during his career.  One of the things he taught me is the old design adage: form follows function.   In other words, buildings are designed as tools to serve particular functions.  So, one question congregational leaders need to grapple with is: given the ministry to which we discern Christ is calling us, what facilities do we really need?  Obviously, this assumes that leaders have clarity about the ministry in their community to which Christ calls them beyond ‘continuing-doing-what-we-have-been-doing-because-our-members-like-it-and-we-are-comfortable-doing-it’. 

This functional question is difficult for some persons to entertain.  It may even sound like someone speaking gibberish.   They have celebrated baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, regular and special worship services in a sanctuary that has become over the years so intricately entwined in their family’s history and their own spiritual story that it is now for them a sacred space.  It is physically their spiritual home.  The sanctuary reminds them of Christ’s presence and of some of the most meaningful moments in their life.  To imagine a renovation to their cherished sanctuary or a change in how it is used or, especially, no longer to worship in it is like losing a part of who they are.  To ask what facilities are required for effective ministry is like . . . like asking, “What purpose do your grandchildren serve?”   It simply makes no sense to them.

Nevertheless, this is an essential question for responsible ministry leaders to ask.  (“This” being the question about facilities, not grandchildren!)  Especially as we remember that Christians built no dedicated church facilities during the first three centuries and that this was the most evangelistically expansive and spiritually fervent period in the history of Christ’s body.   So again, let’s ask: what sort of facilities does our congregation need effectively to fulfill the ministry to which God calls us? 

Facilities are tools for ministry -- very expensive and high maintenance tools.  And, as every handyman or woman knows, you need different tools for different jobs.  When you have the right tools, the job is easier.  When you don’t have the right tools, the job is more difficult – if not impossible.  Just try using a Phillip’s screwdriver when you need a standard screwdriver. 

Sue and I are part of Community of Faith UMC – a ten year old congregation that has four weekend worship gatherings in a middle school cafeteria.  Office space is rented in what looks like an old 7-11 several miles from the middle school.  They intentionally decided to focus on growing their congregation before building a dedicated facility.  The leaders now sense that the lack of a facility to which they have access throughout the week is prohibiting them from effectively ministering in their community.  So in February, the congregation will be moving into their first dedicated facility.  In a recent email-newsletter, Pastor Scott Smith wrote: “It's just a few short weeks until we move into our first building!  While we're all very excited about this huge blessing for our community, we recognize that the building on the hill does not define who we are. We are a motley crew of vagabonds on a journey of faith, committed to living by faith, being known by love, and being a voice of hope in this world.”  (Emphasis added.)

Community of Faith leaders have had to carefully think through the congregation’s ministry and envision an affordable building that would enable their mission in the community.  Countless functional and practical choices have been made.  For example, they have chosen to build more children’s rooms (and few adult rooms) for childcare ministry during the week, because they believe this is a ministry to which they are being called.  They have also been intentional about cultivating the value of multiple-use of all rooms; no group may make exclusive claim on any room.  Leaders have chosen to build open spaces for gatherings conducive to people visiting and developing relationships because cultivating Christian community (“being known by love”) is missionally what they are about.   Another choice that has been made is not to have an organ because it is not essential to the style of worship which they discern Christ calls them.  Instead, they have intentionally designed their worship space to enable the worship style they found reaches the people they are primarily called to reach.  One of the design concerns has also been to incorporate symbols and reminders of our ancient faith into the worship space to assist persons in connecting their story with the mystical and Eucharistic two thousand year old continuing journey story of those who follow Jesus Christ as his disciples and join him on mission in the world. 

What sort of facilities are required for the ministry to which Christ calls your congregation in making a Kingdom impact in people’s lives and in your community?  How do the facilities you need to effectively minister compare to the facilities that you have?   Do your facilities fit your ministry?  How are your facilities more than adequate?  And how are they designed for ministry in another day to people who no longer life in your community?  Where are your facilities working against or getting in the way of your ministry?  What sort of alterations to your facilities might need to be considered to retrofit them to the ministry you now feel Christ calls you?  

In the next CT Blog entry, we will be thinking about question #2:  How can our congregation make the best ministry use of our existing facility resources?

Dr. Jeff Stiggins
Office of Congregational Transformation



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