This is a repost from The Burner Blog. I wrote this a few weeks ago and am now sharing it here!
On my commute to work, I bike past three church buildings that no longer function as churches.
Each of these buildings was once home to a congregation – Pentecostal, Presbyterian, and Methodist – but each was unable to sustain their faithful presence through the rapid and extensive transitions taking place in their neighborhood. For years, these churches sat abandoned on desirable property in desirable neighborhoods that have no desire for a church.
Each of these properties has recently been purchased or leased by entrepreneurs. One has been converted into a beautiful single-family home, complete with the original steeple and bell. One is used as a gallery and performance space in the trendiest up-and-coming neighborhoods of Los Angeles. One is currently in the process of being transitioned into a boutique hotel and bar in one of LA’s hipster havens.
I love each of these ideas. The spaces, each with their preservationist conversions, are beautiful. Those taking the lead on the conversions have done their homework, creating business plans that take into account their neighborhood context and demographics.
I love each of these ideas but they make me sad.
• Why did the pastors, committees, or denominations representing these congregations hold so tightly to the single-use they had in mind for their space that they allowed these beautiful buildings to sit unused for years?
• Why did they allow their financial reserves to drain away as they maintained the status quo even as the pews grew increasingly empty?
• Why was it only an outside entrepreneur that saw through the years of neglect and abandonment to envision these buildings as beautiful spaces for the good of the neighborhood?
• Why do we still train pastors in the preservation of stagnant church buildings and congregational legacies while the needs of their community – needs which could be met, in part at least, through creative use of physical properties and structures – go unnoticed or ignored?
Even with the missional conversation trickling down into older, established congregations, too much of our “missional talk” gets stuck in sermons and service projects, never actually igniting an imagination for how the resources of our churches – property, buildings, finances, people – could be used to serve those who are not interested in walking into a church – but would be interested in an art gallery, performance space, warming center, speakeasy, community space, or tutoring center.
When will we recognize that the way of the cross might involve offering our property and buildings as multi-use community space that might happen to also host a worshipping congregation a few times a week?
When will we anoint, bless, and commission pastors to serve as landlords, community developers and entrepreneurs rather than pulpit-and-pew preservers?
When will we allow the expectations of the past to be buried in order to see a resurrection of imagination for our cities and neighborhoods?