Tag: community development

Churches adapt ancient models for the 21st century

For many of us who care about church, it is becoming increasingly apparent that church as we know it must change in order to maintain its mission in the 21st century.  This change will not be cosmetic.  This change will not be a debate about traditional worship versus contemporary worship, or small groups versus Sunday School.  The kind of change the church must adopt is transformational change — change that fundamentally reshapes how we think about church, and what church actually does.

Three ancient church models are gaining traction in the first decade of this new century:  the marketplace church, the monastic church, and the mission center church.  Each one of these church models existed in previous centuries, but now each has been reimagined for this new millennium.

The marketplace church. This is the church that is a coffee shop or an art gallery or a clothing consignment store during business hours, engaging its community through the medium of the marketplace.  A good example of this is Knox Life Church in Knoxville, Tennessee which operates Remedy Coffee, and then gathers for worship on the weekend. The old Celtic Christian abbeys maintained farms which engaged the local population, generated income for the abbey, and provided employment for their neighbors.

The monastic church. This is the church where community, a committed community, is the core value.  The monastic church might do good in their neighborhood, or they might share table fellowship with each other on a regular basis, or both.   Participants in the monastic church community do not necessarily live together, but they share a rule of life that mimics that of the ancient monastic orders.  Gordon Cosby’s Church of the Savior is probably the oldest and best-known example of this type, but Shane Claiborne’s group might be a more recent example.

The mission center church. The all-time winner of this category, and the sole occupant of this slot for decades, is the Salvation Army.  Their mission work overshadows the other things they do like worship.  A good example of a local church that is a mission center is Solid Rock United Methodist Church in Olivia, North Carolina.  Solid Rock UMC died as a struggling storefront church, and was reborn as a mission with a mission.  The Celtic abbeys also were mission centers in the midst of great need.  One abbey fed over 1,000 people a day.  Most abbeys gave refuge, cared for the sick, welcomed the stranger, and provided food, shelter and clothing to those who needed it.

These ancient models are with us again because all three — marketplace, monastic, and mission center — express the vision of their participants to be a new expression of church built on a specific approach to being the people of God.  Some churches combine all three, and more, of these models to become “the church as abbey” that I have written about previously.  I think this is the wave of the future for church, and that any or all of these expressions are legitimate and effective ways of engaging the world with the gospel.  Notice that none of these models emphasizes worship as the connection with the surrounding community.  More on that later.

Powerpoint: Small Churches Make Good Neighbors

Here’s the powerpoint I used in my NOC2008 workshop, Small Churches Make Good Neighbors.   I’m using the abbey church model, and discussing the 10 aspects of the ancient celtic abbeys applied to churches today.  The ppt is on SlideShare, so you can view and download the presentation, if you find it helpful.  I am going to edit and add to the notes, but I think you’ll get the thrust of the presentation as it is.  Let me know if you have questions or comments.

What if your church started a business?

In her book, Isle of the Saints: Monastic Settlement and Christian Community in Early Ireland, Dr. Lisa M. Bitel states “The archaelogical evidence of [Celtic monastic] enclosures…suggests that living within the sight of the monastic enclosure was useful to farmers and herders, doubtless economically as well as spiritually.”  Which is a very academic way of saying that the community around the Celtic Christian abbeys benefitted financially as well as spiritually from the abbey’s ministry.

The abbeys had to be self-supporting and relied on a combination of gifts of land and valuables, plus commerce, farming, and trade to sustain their work.  Bitel goes on to comment that as abbeys grew, the community around them grew, attracting craftspersons, farmers, herdsmen, merchants, and even musicians and actors who found a ready market for their goods and services.

Why couldn’t churches today have a positive impact on their communities economically as well as spiritually?  Could we create small businesses that serve as gateways into the community of faith, while at the same time providing employment and economic impact?  Tall Skinny Kiwi, Andrew Jones, is part of a venture doing just that with the arts.  Their microbusiness, called The Sorting Room, provides a venue for local artists to sell their work.  Some churches have started coffee shops, or fair trade stores.  First Baptist Church of San Antonio operates the 4th Street Cafe staffed by volunteers and they use the funds generated to feed the homeless in San Antonio.

Maybe it’s time for churches to seriously consider going into business.  What do you think?  Do you know of any churches operating businesses either as a ministry or as part of their self-sustaining strategy?  Let’s exclude all the mega-ministries that are big businesses, but what about small churches operating business enterprises?

Lessons Learned While Building A Community Center

Last week The Community Center at Chatham opened to the public after three years of planning, praying, and building. Reaction to the building was amazing, and ranged from “Wow” to “Now we can have exercise classes here.” Everything about this project went extremely well, and moved quickly. But, I did learn some things in the process, and here’s what I’ve gleaned so far:

  1. Be prepared for criticism. When we were awarded $3-million to build the community center, I thought everyone would be thrilled. Most were, but some very vocal opponents were quick with their criticism. Be prepared for criticism when you undertake any community-wide project.
  2. Get all the help you can. We hired a top-notch architectural and engineering firm, a good contractor, and our board made a lot of decisions. One person could not have pulled this off, and I called on the expertise of board members, design professionals, and others every step of the way. The best money we spent was to pay the architectural firm to manage the project and review all materials the contractor used. Some suggested we manage the project ourselves, which would have saved us thousands of dollars. But, it might have cost us tens-of-thousands of dollars in bad decisions.
  3. Know how you will use the building before you design it. One of my favorite movie lines is from Field of Dreams when Ray Kinsella hears the voice tell him, “If you build it, they will come.” That’s a great line, but building it isn’t enough. You have to know why you’re building it. In our case we knew the Boys and Girls Club would be the anchor program, so we designed the building to be managed by two people with clear sight lines into all rooms. Form does indeed follow function.
  4. Develop use policies prior to opening. We’re behind on this, but we’re catching up fast. We were so focused on building the building that we lagged behind on use policies. Fortunately, we’re closed for a couple of weeks to put in the gym floor, so we’ll catch up before we re-open.
  5. Think about staffing and funding. We decided that we could not run the building with volunteers alone, so we hired an interim director and will add part-time staff later. But we will use lots of volunteers to round out our staffing. We’re also raising money (we raised $26,000 at our gala grand opening dinner); we believe operating expenses will run $8-10,000 per month. That’s a lot of money to raise, but we plan a combination of individual and corporate donations, grants, user fees, and rental fees. I’ll let you know how this works as we move forward.

Someone asked me several weeks ago if I would do this all over again. The answer is “Yes” because the Center has already exceeded our expectations. But, I did learn some things, and next time it will be easier. I hope.

Where were the pastors?

empty-seat-at-the-table.jpg I just returned from a meeting of community leaders and agencies that work with children and youth in our community.  About 18 people were there including the superintendents of both the city and county schools, and representatives from Social Services, Community Action, Habitat for Humanity, our local community college, Boys and Girls Club leadership, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and others.

The chairperson noted those in attendance, and commented.  “I also invited several local pastors, but I see none of them here.”  (I was invited as representative of the new community center in our town.)

My question is — “Where were the pastors?”  Why wouldn’t a pastor consider a joint meeting of every child advocacy group in our area a good thing to attend?  I know it’s Holy Week, but I made time to attend with more than a week’s notice, so I’m sure others could have also.  If we as pastors are not willing to sit at the table with others in our community to solve our common problems and share a common vision, how will we win a world?

What do you think?  Would you attend a meeting like this?  If not, why not?  Maybe there’s something I’m missing here, and if so, I’d like to know what it is.

21 Potential Ministry Partners for Your Church

handshake.jpg Last year, after talking about how our church partnered with various groups in our community, someone remarked, “That’s fine for your church, but nobody in our community would work together.” In the interest of challenging that statement, here are 21 groups that I think your church (or any church) might partner with on community transformation:

  1. Schools — including the PTA, PTO, and other school organizations.
  2. Civic clubs — our Rotary Club gives away over $12,000 per year to local organizations.
  3. Local charitable organizations — shared agendas create new partnerships. Join with others to feed the hungry or shelter the homeless. Our church does both working with other groups.
  4. Local corporations and businesses — our Boys and Girls Club is supported in part by local business contributions. We get donations from other companies for other projects, too.
  5. Other churches — I know this is a stretch, but yes, churches can work together, too. Our community center began as an informal coalition of local churches.
  6. Law Enforcement agencies — the local sheriff’s department worked with our Boys and Girls Club on a baseball project last summer.
  7. Local fire department — our local fire department was a co-sponsor for the Boys and Girls Christmas Party this year. They bought toys for each of the 86 kids who attended.
  8. Hospitals — many hospitals provide programs for clergy. Why not a community project that involves healthcare, such as blood pressure screenings, etc?
  9. Transportation companies — some churches provide a “free ride day” with the cooperation of their local transit provider.
  10. Hobby clubs — local hobbyists could provide instruction or donate products they made for specific projects. One of our members organizes a blanket project, with all the blankets made by others. Blankets go to children involved in calls made by the Sheriff’s department.
  11. Hunting and fishing clubs — In rural areas, local hunters and fishermen provide game or fish for a community wild game dinner or fish fry.
  12. Professional partners — doctors, lawyers, and other professionals could partner with churches to provide legal advice for seniors, or health programs for the community.
  13. Banks and financial institutions — Banks often look for ways to do good in their communities, and you can tap that civic spirit in the form of sponsorships or volunteers.
  14. 12-step programs — Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and other 12-step type programs depend on church facilities for meeting space. But, there could also be other tie-ins with these groups.
  15. Local politicians — we invited local county supervisors to our community center groundbreaking and some came! During an election year especially, local politicians can lend their names to worthwhile projects. Maybe some money, too.
  16. Other religious groups — the church we attended in Nashville years ago partnered with other churches, synagogues, and mosques to create an interfaith dialogue group that met for dinner once a year.
  17. Colleges and universities — our community music school is a collaboration with Virginia Tech’s Outreach Department. Universities often need to do community outreach as part of their mission in their state.
  18. Community Development Corporations — these are groups whose mission and projects aim at community transformation. A lot of variety exists in CDC programs, from low-income housing, to rehabbing old buildings, to targeting specific civic problems.
  19. Social service organizations — our church hosts the annual Social Services Volunteer Luncheon each year, sponsored by our local county Social Services Department. We call them to check out folks who request help, and they call us when they have a need with which they need assistance.
  20. Scouts — often Scouts need projects to earn merit badges and churches need things done. Check with your local scout leaders.
  21. Professional sports teams — our local minor league baseball team sponsors church night and gives church groups discounts. But, this partnership could be expanded to provide visits to children in the local hospital, or to your church after-school program.

“Learn to Partner” at CT.com

Christianity Today just posted my article, “Learn To Partner,” on their website.  The print version appeared in Leadership’s spring 2007 issue.  If you don’t subscribe to Leadership, or haven’t read the article, it’s the story of what we are doing here in Chatham.   Hope you find it helpful.