Tag: community transformation

Be clear about your outcome

When our church led the way in building the new $3-million community center in our town, we did not expect the outcome to be new members for our church.  We did expect the community center to become a gathering place for the community.

When we helped start the local Boys and Girls Club by hosting them in our building, we didn’t expect to get new members for our church.  We did expect to provide a safe after-school program for underserved kids.  

When we worked to establish a community music school that is headquartered at our church, we didn’t expect it to increase membership either.  We did expect it to provide quality music instruction for children. 

When we partnered with artists and educators in our community to start Soundcheck, the monthly teen open mic night, we didn’t expect it to bring new members to our church.  We did expect Soundcheck to be a venue for artistic expression, and to increase arts awareness in our town.

Because we understood going in to each of these projects that there probably would not be an immediate payoff for our church in increased membership, our congregation was not disappointed when no new members joined from any of those programs.  

Be clear about your desired outcome before you start a project.  Don’t try to sell every project as a membership project.   Churches can be on mission to transform their communities, too.

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.

One reason small churches aren’t growing: saturation

Thumbing through an analysis of our community today, it hit me.  There are too many churches in our area.  Within a 5-mile radius of our church, there are 25 other churches.  And, this doesn’t even count churches without telephones, which include at least 8 more that I know of.  That’s 33 churches for a population of about 4,000 households, or about 8,000 people.  

Take out the 10% of the population that is totally unaffiliated, and you have 7200 people.  Divide 7200 people by 33 churches, and you have an average of 218 members per church.  Of course some have more and some less, but 68% of all the churches in our area have between 125 and 350 members.  Our church fits right in that number.  

Of course, this doesn’t mean that everyone attends faithfully, or even comes at all.  We have several dozen members who never show up, but so does everyone else.  But, it does help us get a realistic handle on the potential of our outreach.  When I pastored in suburban areas, if we didn’t add 100 new members each year and baptize at least 25 per year, I was disappointed.  Here I’ll be lucky to see 100 new members in 10 years, and we are baptizing about 3-7 people per year.  

Those are the reasons we’re focusing on community transformation.  We hope to help others become more faithful disciples of Jesus by bridging racial divides, providing tangible help to families in need, and creating gathering places for our community.  We hope to be good news to our community, as well as to the individuals within it who might come to our church.  What is your experience?  Is your community “churched” and if so, what does that mean for your ministry?  

The report also noted that our area is highly “churched” (duh), and skews older than the national average.  Did I mention that our county population actually declined since the last census?  You’re beginning to get the picture.  

The great news is our area is higly churched.  The downside is that numerical growth of any of our congregations is limited.  Our primary strategy is building relationships, and adding new members gradually over the long term.

Mission and maintenance

Tall Skinny Kiwi (aka Andrew Jones) had an interesting post today titled “Baby or Bathwater or both,” referencing Jonny Baker’s post. But, TSK also picks up a quote from the same issue of Encounters by Jonathan Ingleby, who says:

My answer to that question is another question: can we begin to think seriously about ‘low-maintenance’ churches? Also, is this possibly one of the things that ‘emerging church’ is about? We are simply being crushed by the weight of the structures we have created in order to maintain our church life. People find they cannot take the weight and are slipping out to look for something which meets their spiritual needs and to which they can contribute something, but which does not weigh on them so heavily. Viewed from within the church, this is the familiar dilemma of ‘mission versus maintenance’. We are putting so much energy into maintaining the structures that we have not got time for anything else.

Which reminded me of our situation: we are looking for children’s Sunday School workers, and a SS director. We’re spending lots of time and energy to maintain the organization, and less on our mission of transforming our community. I’m beginning to think that “low maintenance” church is a great idea, but that is not an excuse for do-nothingism.

Low maintenance is the opposite of the mindless sustaining of institutional structures that no longer serve their purpose. If we channel all that spiritual energy into mission — real life-changing events focused outside the church walls and members — that would be more true to the tasks to which we are called. Problem is — institutional structures are hard to kill or abandon. Why? Because we’ve always done it like that. And the beat goes on.

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.

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.