This section lists all blog posts, regardless of topic.
Thoughts on the notion of renovating a church sanctuaryMay 27, 2013
Our church is planning on doing some renovations of our church sanctuary, and we have been asked to contribute our personal dreams for that project. Below are my thoughts. Obviously this is something each church must wrestle with.
Other than some more distant recollections of people commenting that we might consider changing the paint color in the sanctuary, comments at the annual meeting (?) or around that time challenging the congregation to undertake a renovation project of the sanctuary before 2015 are where the context of this “dreams discussion” originate for me. The tone of the announcement at church this week, as well as the note that was put in people’s mailboxes, seems to have evolved from the original challenge. I won’t get the wording right, but the announcement was something to the effect of “it’s clear that the carpet needs to be replaced in the sanctuary” on Sunday, and in the note in the mailboxes it says “the flooring needs to be replaced in the sanctuary and the foyers as a matter of maintenance”. There seems to be an implicit affirmation from leadership that this project will be undertaken, and that it will in the very least involve replacing the flooring of the foyer and sanctuary.
This implicit affirmation is challenging for me because the need to replace flooring is far from clear to me. The spirit behind the project as a whole likewise isn’t something that I resonate with, and so the assumptive voice that is emerging is tricky for me. It makes me feel as if my feedback doesn’t apply because it falls outside of the assumed parameters of the discussion.
In general, the way I have been thinking about opportunities to spend financial resources these days is to consider the full gamut of possibilities. With any dollar we have been entrusted with, my sense is that we should aim to do that which glorifies God the most. Obviously that is a tricky question to answer in a precise way, but hopefully the general concept is useful and something that many people would agree with.
When I look out into the world and read that 20,000 children are dying every day due to preventable causes while we in our congregation live such comfortable and affluent lives, it challenges me. More and more, I feel like God is getting my attention, waking me up. I believe that even as Christians, we often live our lives without a world-wide perspective. Rather, we are very acclimatized to life within our Southwestern Ontario context. When we make spending decisions, my sense is that we typically do that with blinders on. If the broadness of our vision was really global, I struggle to believe that we would make many of the financial decisions that we make as a congregation, both in our personal lives, and in our life together as a church. Does God desire us to limit the scope of our decisions? I don’t think God desires that.
Let’s take for example the choice of whether we replace the flooring. If it costs $7,500 to replace the carpet, that is perhaps 3x a typical estimate for how much it costs to save a child’s life. And so I don’t take the decision lightly.
A second layer to my struggle is that our sanctuary has its primary use of about 1.5 hours per week. A week is 168 hours, so that is a utilization of 0.9%. The foyer is used perhaps 30 minutes per week for a weekly utilization of perhaps 0.3%. I believe that God desires Christians to demonstrate skillful stewardship -- can the use of our sanctuary and foyer really be considered good stewardship? Even more challenging is the fact that our small town of St. Jacobs has three church buildings. Each one of those buildings is the property of the same God, and each is likely utilized a tiny percentage throughout the week. Again, this strikes me as a sign of poor stewardship. (Can’t we share a church?) Can we honestly understand such tiny utilizations as honoring to God in a world where so many precious children don’t make it to their fifth birthday?
These feelings of sadness and confusion don’t fit very well with the sentiment of the letter in our mailboxes which make comments such as “fresh and exciting”, and talks about “need”.
Where I do connect with this conversation is that we must face the fact that we are surrounded by and desiring to witness to people who live in this culture, and we might be less effective at inspiring folks to worship with us if our sanctuary isn’t architecturally inspiring. And so from that angle I am fully supportive of the notion of (ironically) being good stewards of the building that we have been given, using it to its fullest potential as an instrument of witness.
But even that said, it’s far from obvious to me that a pretty sanctuary that potentially costs the lives of children is a good witness to a culture that is drunk on materialism. Don’t we reap what we sow?
I’ll close with something that is a bit off topic. I had been thinking that this discussion was a more general “capital project dreams and discussion” and not limited to the sanctuary project... the realization for me was that I do love capital projects. They’re exciting! It just depends what kind of capital project we’re talking about. If we’re talking about building wells or other clean water initiatives like sand dams, building schools, building churches, etc, then sign me up. On that theme, here is my dream for a “capital project”. I will use numbers not because they are overly important, but I do think they can make a dream feel a bit more concrete.
A five year project focused on partnering with communities in developing nations to provide access to clean water, education, and medical services. $500,000 goal over the five years, which would be given on top of our typical church budget. (Just like a typical capital campaign) A portion of that $100,000 per year would be used for travel expenses for people in our congregation to be physically present with the people we have a heart to minister to, developing friendships, learning about their culture, being transformed, and bringing back stories to the local congregation. Rather than spending dollars that have yet to be given (and going into debt), we could have a “giving year” followed by a “spending year”. ie. There would be five spending years in a row, but the first “giving year” would come a year prior to the first “spending year”. That would eliminate the stress of having to pay down debt, and so the money spent on this capital campaign each year would be more analogous to “overflow” than to debut reduction. Rather than being purely a matter of dollars, we would pour ourselves out into research and planning, and prayer. And we would be partnering with existing organizations, whether MCC or otherwise, to leverage their knowledge and relationships.
That is a capital campaign that would both challenge and excite my spirit. Carpet just can’t compare.Living at ChurchApril 20, 2013
Something that came to mind at the Inspire Justice conference last weekend (not for the first time), is the concept of "living at church". What do I mean by that? Yup: Literally living at church.
Let me back up a step. Something that causes me concern is that there are so many big, expensive church buildings. At this conference, there was mention made of one church doing a $50 million dollar building expansion! In a world where there are so many children dying from malnutrition and preventable diseases
, it causes one pause. As members of a church, can we feel confident that putting our offerings in the plate are the absolute best way to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a suffering world? Are these big, little-used buildings really a core example of what it means to be "the church"?
How much difference do these capital campaigns really make? I was shocked to learn that when people in the church die and leave a large amount of money to the congregation, such as $100,000, it is customary for 90% of that to go to the capital fund. Yikes.
What goes along with this concern is that these buildings have their core utilization, at least in our congregation, between 9 AM and 12 noon on Sunday. That's 3 hours out of a 168 hour week. The buildings do have pastoral offices, a few activities throughout the week, and there are a couple of organizations that use some of the space, but overall utilization remains low.
As a church, I believe we are called to lead by example. We should be able demonstrate good stewardship to the world. Because hey, we are spending God's money, so one would think we'd be pretty careful.
Another realization here is that our church is in a small town where there are not one or two, but THREE church buildings. Can churches in a small town not even figure out how to share their worship spaces so that three completely separate buildings, all low-utilization, are required? Part of me shakes my head at this. Good stewards?
How about parking lots. My home church in Woodstock recently bought a school that closed down next to it so that it could continue to use the parking lot around the school. Cost: Something like $350,000. That's money that could flow right into missions, perhaps enough to double the missions budget for a whole decade, but the money gets tied up in a parking lot. At this Inspire Justice conference in Cambridge, the size of the church parking lot was absolutely massive. Sigh.
The crazy idea is this: Could people live in church buildings? Imagine a family setting up a couple of tents at bed time: One for mom and dad, and another for their two kids. Meals prepared in the church kitchen. Movies watched on the church projector.
What would this look like with 5 families living in the church? Shared day-care. Having other kids to play with. If there were multiple people who "worked at home", it would create a bit of an office environment.
Community. 0-minute drive to church. Shared meal prep a few times a week. Huge cost savings.
Let's take it a step further: What if those families shared their income while living there together, and gave the excess to the church? It almost sounds like Acts.
And yet another step further: Including a mix of low-income families, such as immigrants, etc.
And yet another step further: Include a couple of elderly people who still have their marbles but can't quite take care of themselves anymore?
I wonder whether we suddenly wouldn't have a building under-utilization issue any more, and that might be one of the smaller benefits.
I find this fascinating.TitleApril 20, 2013