Monday, December 10, 2007

An interesting concept

I was talking to my friend Andrew last night and we were discussing the (what seems to be) falling apart of a local church. Some of the leaders have left, others are slowly doing so, the congregation is half of what it was a couple years ago, their original mission has been replaced by a somewhat superficial one, etc, etc, etc. The saddest thing is that the church just completed a renovation project that included new construction that doubled the size of the church as well as remodeling much of the existing area. One of us posed a question about what would happen if the church completely fell apart. The other one answered what seemed like a simple answer: they could sell it to all the new churches starting up in the area.

But wait, maybe that actually would be a great idea. (We talked about the concept for a while, so I'll try to condense it.) Think about it, what are some of the pitfalls of the conventional church? Finances, organization, decision making; the types of things that are usually associated with a business but all too often end up being the main focus of many churches. So what if these new churches didn't have to worry about those business-structure things but still got all the benefits of their existence?

Here's the plan: There are four new upstart church groups within a five mile radius of this building. Each and every one of them currently meet in local schools. Now some organization, not associated with any of them, buys the building. All four of the churches rent it and use it when they need it. One meets on Saturday night, another at 10:00 Sunday mornings, another at 11:30 Sunday mornings, and the last one uses it more during the day on Saturday. Now none of them have to worry about sound systems, carpet cleaning, renting out halls, janitorial work, heating costs, building maintenance, or any of the other thousand things that can lesson the pastor's and leader's time. What you end up having is a building that houses churches. The church is the people and their organization, not the building.

Of course there are logistics and planning issues with the concept, but there are with anything. And yes I know that there will be time and space issues. But they won't have to be dealt with by the pastors or the church. There will be a business structure in place that deals with all of that. A business structure that can be fair and level headed because it will have no affiliation with the churches at all. The organization will be the CEO and CFO, not the pastors.

The point is these new growing churches will have a more useful home than a school gymnasium. (Not to say they aren't blessed where they're at, just limited as to what they can do.) They won't have a wasted building on their expense sheet that only gets used two or three days a week, and even then only a few hours. The pastor's and leader's time, and the church's resources, can now be used for outreach and faith-building uses, not wasted on trying to run a business. We talked about a lot more, but I hope you get the concept. Any thoughts?


Blogger Sweet Peripety said...

I get the concept. it's a good one. Maybe someday someone would follow it..I can see completely how positive this can be.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Sweet Peripety said...

I get the concept. it's a good one. Maybe someday someone would follow it..I can see completely how positive this can be.

10:34 AM  
Blogger 3rd string's finest said...

Howdy, Sam. Very interesting. I think it is a great idea, but one thing has to happen for all of this to come about. The failure of a church. A very established one, at that.

The main factor you have to consider here is the human factor. Though the idea is, in theory, very "do-able" It is fataly flawed from the get-go. I have seen every nasty little problem, as have you, that abides in churches today and they are all because of us.

Here is what I see happening. Everything starts out just dandy, Everybody gets along just fine. Then, not a week goes by before the problems arise. It start out small at first. Some of the snacks put away for one church's(lets call it church "A") Sunday School program goes missing. An anonymous tip or perhaps a simple hunch leads the finger of blame to point at church "C". Nothing big yet. A couple of polite smiles and exchange of pleasantries smooths everything over.

A month goes by. Time to pay the rent. They come up short. The church's elders get together to run the numbers and figure it out. The loudest argument is the most understandable. Church "C's" congregation is much smaller than the others and it's elders (one of them has a wife named "Susan") think it unfair to pay an equal share. Everybody agrees, of the elders from church "A" has had to listen to his wife "Denise" complain all month about "Susan" from church "C" because she is convinced that "Susan's" unruly children took the snacks and "Susan" did nothing, not even a polite "I'm sorry". This elder from church "A" suggests that church "C" pays up just this once until all the kinks are worked out. It is put to a vote and the majority (churches A, B, and D) win. The elders from church "C" dislike being the minority and the one whos wife is "Susan" walks away knowing full well about the nasty looks "Denise" gives his wife and why, his shoulder now a little heavier with the addition of an ugly chip. He doesn't notice it.

A year goes by. A hundred little problems have come and gone but all have been dealt with one way or the other. Everybody is happy. It's Sunday afternoon and pastor "Winters" of church "D" has just finished giving his sermon. In this sermon he preaches boldly, loudly. He lets everybody in his congregation know that he believes that a person cannot go to Heaven without first being baptised. He says If you do not wash your sins away and submerge yourself in water than you shall surely drown in a lake of fire. The sermon causes an uproar. The other churches lash out stating that they will not share a roof with people whos doctrine differs so greatly from there own. They sign a petition, the renters agree to cancle church "D"s lease under clause 108.5 in the leasee agreement (irreconcilable differences).
The churches are happy...until the rent is due. They last another half a year but the finnancial stree is too much. With out that fourth leg their chair became too unstable. Without another church to be found to be the new church "D". They sink. There is now a "For Sale" sign in the front lawn. The Human factor prevails.

I know, I know. it was just an extremely exagerated dramatisation. That is just the first thing that I thought of. Who knows. Perhaps a strong and very specific contract and a system of checks and balances could make it all work. It IS a very good idea.

10:47 AM  
Blogger 3rd string's finest said...

By "stree" i mean stress. It is an uncommon synonym. Not a lot of people know about it yet. lol.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

Good thoughts Evan. But this concept doesn't raise new problems like the ones you described. Those problems are already there within individual churches; they just have different hats on. SS class versus SS class, worship team one versus worship team two, first service versus second service, old lady janitor versus old man janitor, I think you get the idea.

Pastors are dealing with these silly squables on a daily basis already. If they were in the hands of a business manager the problems would become simple. And yes, I mean simple. Churches don't argue with the bank about the mortgage, or the utility company about the lights. The churches meeting in schools follow rules of conduct and care when it comes to the facilities they use. Both of these situations show a rule-following mentality already understood by individual churches. The same attitude would be the same in this concept. Clearly defined rules result in clearly defined followers.

Of course there will be problems, nothing in this world works perfect. But that's why you have a managerial organization to handle issues. You do what they say or you don't stay. Like I said, logistics would need to be worked out, but the concept has many more pros than cons. The biggest being taking the pastor out of the stupid CEO seat and giving him back time to pursure his passion for people's souls.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Kyle said...

I like this conversation. The Open Door (The church I have my internship at until... wednesday) rents space from an organization called the union project which started out as a bunch of hippies that had a vision of taking over an old abandoned baptist church building and turning it into a community outreach center. They rent office space out to different organizations (including the open door, a media design company, league of young voters, PULSE [think menno-corps],etc.), they run a cafe and catering company, have a pottery production line as well as pottery classes, do stained glass restoration where they hire vulnerable members of the community, they have block parties with free beer like once a month. yadda yadda yadda... you get the point. Google the Union Project if you want to know more. It's really cool.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand, the relationship the Open door has with the union project is truely a beautiful one. The OD saves tons of money a year by renting and doesnt have to worry about heat, water, janitors... all the stuff you mentioned. The union project gets rent money and gets to share space with a church that shares its vision of mission, and gets another opportunity to use the old building for the purpose that it was originally built... to worship.

However, I think I should also say that Just because we rent the space doesn't mean that BJ and John get to completely be rid of the CEO role. The church still has to deal with finances, they still have to order paper plates for the monthly communion dinners, still have to keep up the database of names and addresses, etc. that stuff doesn't go away.

I'm really glad to see the new churches popping up around that are really trying to be missional and be genuine and "do" church right, but I get discouraged because I can't see how these churches are really radically different than anything else I grew up with and complain about. Maybe their mission statement looks different, and maybe they change the liturgies and worship style, and maybe they have a few more social action experiments, but in the end i look at it and see the same old thing: a weekly worship service and maybe a few small groups that meet at each others houses.

I think instead of having all these new churches coming together in the same building and meeting at different times, I would rather see simple groups being the church where they are. LIVING in community (not fabricating it on sunday morning or saturday night or whenever) Sharing communion with every meal (not just a wafer and sip wine once a month) and reaching out to the people of their neighborhood (not just inviting the people that live close to the church to come in and watch the band play a few songs and then get preached at)...

I guess thats just wishful thinking. Call me pessimistic if you want, but I could really see the different churches eventually uniting and becoming "upper room alliance church" and just turning into the same church thats falling apart before you now.

Hope I didnt offfend anyone. Or maybe i do?

2:11 PM  
Blogger Kyle said...

I say all of that in love, of course

2:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would be really slow and cautious to make claims about what "seems to be" a church going under. Especially if you have no affiliation with the church. It's very hard to see what God is doing with a church from the road as you drive by.

2:32 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Good thoughts Kyle. But you might be onto a different topic. A good one, but not the same. This brave new (if it is new) concept doesn't solve all the church problems.

First of all, you're right, the concept doesn't eliminate "all" the CEO garbage, but I'm not sure it should. All that little stuff you mentioned, like databases and communion plates, allows them to keep their mental finger on the pulse of the church. But even that could easily be taken over by a volunteer in the organization. But that again is a different topic.

Secondly, in no way am I claming this concept fixes the church or makes it in any way "new & dynamic!" You and I have spoken many times about the fact most new churches are merely doing the same-old church with a different hat on. That doesn't define "new" to me, nor does this concept. But what this idea does is move some people one step closer to actually changing something. Even the littlest something.

Let me explain: pick the one thing in your life that takes up the most time but accomplishes the least in the grand scheme of life. Is it doing the bills? Is it a dumb class in school you'll never use? Is it waiting in line at the doctor's office? Whatever it is, imagine if you could have that one thing done in a split second and you'd get all that time and energy to use towards something that does matter. This concept can do that for pastors and leaders.

The fixing of the church, if you think it needs fixed, is another mountain to climb. This is just the base camp.

2:37 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Anonymous, you're right. I'm not affiliated with the church I speak of, which is the reason I used the word seems. I'm an outsider and I see it from the outside, like many others with the same opinion.

But the point is not a ripping apart of that church, or claiming that it'll be dead soon. In all my dreams and desires I would never want an established church to fail. The conversation (and the ensuing concept) came out of a sad thought that it could. I could get into a car accident on the way home, but I hope and pray I don't. But if it happened, some people might wonder what Ell would do with the Insurance money. See what I mean? Morbid thoughts? Maybe. But late night conversations aren't always pretty. We were just brainstorming as to how we could see a building that had previuosly been used for God's glory continue to do so if tragedy were to happen.

Sorry if we've offended you.

2:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey there!
I think that your concept can work without a church shutting down, if the church is open to a ministry that might seem counterproductive to the attendance count.

One example:
My church has recently formed a very close relationship with real living church that meets at the YMCA in boardman. Through this relationship, real living is using our church for worship team practice.

I think that because of the strong organization that my church already has setup, it allows us to help nearby churches and organizations to help and reach people.

I think that some churches might shy away from this type of ministry because they may feel a type of competition with nearby or startup churches, but if the churches heart is truly to help people seek God, then it is a worthy and valuable ministry.

On a side note. I'm not sure if the church you speak of is the Upper Room like Kyle suggested, but I would like to squash any thoughts that the Upper Room might be crumbling, or shutting down. The U.R. is healthier and and more focused on their mission then they have been in years. The Lord is doing something awesome in the UR right now.

If it isn't the UR that you speak of, then I hope that the church that you write about can claim the same thing that I do for the UR.

Later buddy.

3:44 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Thanks Chris (who might be Kate) for those thoughts. You're right, the key is to stop silly stuff like feelings of competition. We are all in the same race to the same finish line, no matter what color our running shorts are. It's unfortunate that some people can't see that.

As for the UR thing, I'd rather not mention who we were discussing because that could cause serious concerns and rumors. I have quite a few readers from quite a few churches and I'm not in the mood to make enemies. The point of the concept is not which church, but rather the benefits the unfortunate demise of a church could still produce.

Glad to hear the UR is doing some great new work for the Kingdom. I'd love to hear about that stuff sometime soon.

3:55 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Interesting discussion... very interesting.

I think Sunday evening would work good for a time of gathering too. As I understand it the church Andrew has been going too in Minneapolis shares a building with a more traditional Presbyterian church that meets at the more traditional time of Sunday mornings.

Just like some people aren't comfortable buying gas guzzlers because of the effect on the environment - even though they could afford them - I approach this idea in a similar fashion. I think it's a shame to see a building only used for several hours during the week and so much money being raised to build another structure for the same thing to happen.

So... I like your concept.

Personally I think church buildings tend to get in the way of the mission of God for the church.

6:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that there is nothing unbiblical about Christians gathering together regularly in houses, or large buildings, or any other appropriate venue. I think that the problem arises when those groups take on the "Us vs. Them" attitude. Or when one group tries to justify their preferred way of meeting by taking scripture out of context. If we are to become all things to all men in order to save a few, then there is a place for large groups in huge building as well as small groups in home churches.

I believe The church is to be God’s “body” we are His hands, mouth, and feet in this world. We are to be doing the things that Jesus Christ would do if He were here physically on the earth right now. I think that Christ would be teaching thousands at a time on day, and meeting in someones home to heal the sick the next. Unfortunately, we live in a climate that isn't always conducive for outdoor teachings, making church buildings necessary (Although I do believe that there is no better way to learn of God then by being out in His creation.)

I also believe that if a church is doing what it is intended to do, then there should be very little unused time at the Church building. examples, IHOP, or the Morningstar campus.

8:04 PM  
Blogger Paul Dazet said...

Here is what I would like to see (I know I am dreaming)....

A church gets together where-ever it is. For example, one week it is getting together at a shared building, the next week it is meeting at the art museum to walk through together, eat lunch and discuss; a few days later the group is serving a meal at the rescue mission, a few days later ....

I think Buildings are a problem, more psychologically than anything. They are a haven for dualism theology.

The early church faced persecution, so they were always on the move.

I would like to see a group of people consider themselves a "movement" and carry on those characteristics physically. This mentality would also foster a real sense of community (instead of meeting at the same time, place, etc.)

Anyway... there it is ... dreaming.

3:00 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

Dave, Chris, and Paul, thanks for adding your thoughts and ideas.

As Andrew and I talked, the weirdest part of this concept was that no one was doing it. At least no one we've heard of. Even the UR allowing practice-time usage and the Minnehaha church allowing shared space, neither are actually both using the same space for the same purpose and letting someone else deal with the organization. (As an aside, a large church could be that organizer to smaller churches if they wanted. I'd just hate to see the work required by that management becoming a priority over the working of the church itself.)

I may be beating a dead horse, but I still think the idea of a third party turning the cogs frees up so much time and energy and money that are normally bound by otherwise non-Godly things. And that is the genious of the idea. It provides the opportunity for all the dreaming and Morningstar-type campuses and Open Door structuring and space-sharing and everything else that's been discussed. The idea centers on that one ideal.

And the most amazing part, it wouldn't be that hard to set up. In fact, that would be where God's glory would shine the brightest to the world. They would see something different yet familiar, and in that thing would be the elimination of the religious BS that has scared away the world for years and years. How awesome would that be?!

BTW, is that you Chris or is it Kate? It doesn't matter really, just trying to put a face to the words. Thanks for joining in, whoever you are! ;-)

9:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is Chris. I usually can't find the time to even read everyone blogs on a regular basis. The past couple of days the secretary has been out sick, leaving me as the acting secretary, which give me some free time at a computer.

Thanks for the interesting discussion, I have enjoyed being able to join in.

I have a topic that might open up a whole new bag of worms, but if it is alright with you Sam I would like to use your blog forum to pose a question.

It seems as if some of you readers have the feeling that the church service or structure should be radically different from what it is right now. I would like to know what you would change about it?

Maybe I am narrow minded, and no offense to Paul, but what happens when your traveling group church get too large to practically take to a museum? I also think that just because the New Testament church did something, doesn't mean to me that it is God's ideal way of doing it. I think that the early church would have loved to meet in large groups (as jews of that time were accustomed to doing), but were unable because of persecution. I love the idea of the church being a community as with a home church, but I think that often times home churches turn into an social clubs with a chip on their shoulder against institutional church. Home groups are good, but they often times are awkward and forced. In reality, you end up "doing life" with those you enjoy.

My feeling is that the church and subsequent church building is a place that we should worship God with other believers and be taught His Word for our spiritual growth, it is the place where believers can love one another, encourage one another , “spur” one another, serve one another, instruct one another, honor one another, and be kind and compassionate to one another.

With that Biblical structure in mind, what can you radically do to a church service or church structure to make it so different? I don't think that you can leave out a worship time, or a teaching time.

I look at who is making a difference in the world for Christ today, and I see churches like Mars Hill, who is doing exactly those Biblical standard with the traditional service (Worship service followed by a teaching) with a spirit of love and excellence. I see the aforementioned Morning Star campus who is reaching people by the thousands with a very traditional version of church done in a way of excellence.

To boil this down. My feelings are that it is not the traditional church structure that needs looked at or changed, but it is the in what spirit that the church operates. I think that we should make sure that Christ is acknowledged as its Head, the Bible is preached and taught, and the way of salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ’s death and bodily resurrection, the Holy Spirit is obeyed in the leadership and the people, and the Great Commission is being taught and carried out by the churches members.

But as I say, maybe I am narrow minded. If so enlighten me :)

11:04 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

Chris, I'll post this as a new topic so we can have a new set of comments. Thanks for the thoughts and your praticipation.

11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an interesting discussion. Sam, the concept of an incubator has worked very well for small business. I believe there is a community close by you that has an extremely well run incubator and many small businesses have been born and grown in that place. When they grow to a certain size (ie, too big for the incubator's space considerations) they simply move to larger facilities and someone else moves into the incubator. Not sure how you would quantify a church's numbers (people, money, time needs, etc.) but your idea would work well. Each church would run it's own affairs and simply pay rent that would cover the second largest expense catagory opf a church (2nd after personel - hopefully). You might even throw in a a central secretary to answer phones, take messages, possibly do some typing and bulletin making, and even make schedules if the staffs of the churches wanted them to do so. That way, the building is always open, the churches have a direct line of communication with the people they serve, and the phone, at least during office hours, is always answered.

Good thinking - now, you need to find an empty building - not necessarily a church building per se, and put the thing to work. A church doesn't have to die - shucks, put the thing in an industrial building and call it the Mini Mega Church, Inc. TYou need money to start a business, start looking for it and see what happens. You might become the new godfather of the mini/micro church movement's business plan.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Kyle said...

Sam, I should also mention that other churches have rented space at the Union Project. Actually there is a church group that rents the space on Sunday mornings right now. So your idea isn't completely new, but it would definitely be new to the area and would be a great way for those new churches to save time and money, etc.

And another thought I had was that the building sharing thing might open the door for pastors to consider being unpaid... take from that what you will.

7:00 PM  
Blogger Brooke said...

Wait, the church doesn't need to "die" to share its building. (Actually, does its size matter at all?) The church has a nice building, why not share it so that other churches can benifit from the structure? Take the same concept, just don't delete the first church, simply add others.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

So your main point is this concept being managed by a "syndicate" or organization apart from or outside the churches involved? If it involved a profit it might work. Hmmm... Worship Wharehouses Inc... who wants to be in on this one?

10:44 PM  
Blogger kimw said...

Do we really need to "fix" churches? What we really need to "fix" is us. We're the one's who are broken and can't see farther than the noses on our own faces. We're are selfish by nature; I've heard too many Christians say things like "I don't like the music, it didn't speak to me. The sermon is just too long - it cuts into my football-watching time" , or whatever it is. My point is that church (however you choose to do it) is not about us. As with most things, however, we tend to make it that way and it ends up just as broken as we are.

11:39 PM  
Blogger Paul Dazet said...

I really love what kimw wrote about "us" being the problem. I agree with that - "I am the problem"

For many years, church was about getting more people to fill the pews to make me look good. All the growth occurred as people left other churches that were struggling and attended our church because we delivered a top-notch, high-quality program of entertainment.

It isn't about us. The closer that I get to the heart of God, the more I resonate with where Jesus spent His time. It wasn't hanging out in Church buildings, it was among the outcasts.

For too long, I have not had a non-christian friend. I have lived in a bubble.

What's wrong with Church? me.

12:20 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

Thanks for your thoughts Kim. I actually had you in mind as I wrote the original post, and I was really hoping you'd add your two and half cents to the discussion. I think you should repeat your comment on the next post as well. I think it has just as much, if not more relevance there. The only thing I'd add is that we are the church. So yes, the church does need to be fixed. We've gotten lazy and fat in our happy little worlds where the church organization feeds us and makes us happy. That's the problem, and yes, that problem has a name: "US"!!! Thanks Kim.

As for a response to my Dad and Dave and Brooke, you guys may be on to something. But I'm not really sure I see it working. I love the idea, it's a great idea, it has a mountain of potential; but will anyone bite? Not so sure about that one. I'd love to see it happen, but the practical side is that humans would have to be involved and they screw everything up. ;-)

12:28 PM  
Blogger Brooke said...

I agree that we have gotten lazy and fat. We need to wake up crank the heat, and stir the has been sticking to the pan for too long. Remove the phrase, "I like it because it is comfortable" from our lips and push ourselves off of the comfy couch and into the action.

2:00 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

What KimW said - yeah, what she said, that's it. I totally agree and I need to be reminded of that. And like Sam said your comment needs to be plugged in on the other conversation going on called "a question from Chris".

6:47 PM  

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