Every day in every city and tiny village throughout the United States, people pass by church buildings. The buildings might be towering stone structures once the tallest edifice in town. Or they might be look like the ecclesiastical version of a ranch style house.
What do you see when you pass them by? Maybe you don’t notice them at all. Most people don’t.
All my life I’ve noticed church buildings. As a child, I could have told you where the Lutheran church building was in relation to the United Methodist church building. I could tell you where the Latter Day Saints met and where the Roman Catholics worshiped. I could even tell you were the Hillel Center was on the university campus in Chapel Hill long before I went to high school.
- What’s happening around that building?
- Does the space appear to be used daily?
- Does it look abandoned?
As a Mid-Council leader, I get phone calls from real estate developers weekly asking about that Abandoned-Looking-Church-On-the Hill asking if they could buy that property. The Charlotte area is booming and new condo construction is everywhere even in the rural areas in surrounding counties.
We are not selling church property to build new condos. (I’m not a bishop, even if I sound like one here.)
The 21st Century Church looks different – even in the real estate we use for ministry. Our worship spaces are different. Our educational spaces are different. Our mission spaces are different. I can see it, even if it hasn’t happened yet.
When I pass by an abandoned looking church on the corner, I see affordable housing and free clinics and job training sites. I see affordable day care and after school programs and clothing closets. I see gathering spaces for LGBTQ+ youth and addicts and people in the depths of grief. I see ministry. Can you see it?
People will tell me that we can’t develop ministry without money and we can’t get money without selling to the highest bidder. I understand how that works and yet I am optimistic about partnering with organizations willing to share their money while we share our property.
This is not about being landlords. I’ve written about this before.
This is about being church. Not lone ranger Church – but collaborative, selfless, it’s-all-about-Jesus Church. Can you see it?