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Deacons, Doorknobs and Decisions

When I was about 13 years old our church deacons and male leaders had a 'mens retreat' where they invited a few of us teens (who were showing signs of leadership) to take part in their annual tradition. The meeting was billed as a time of renewal and prayer as well as some good old fashioned horse shoes and softball.

During one afternoon that weekend I remember a 30 minute debate about why our church of 30 people didn't have a cross on the top of the building. The opinions went-a-flyin' and discussions were had about lightning strikes, old crosses, metal crosses, wooden crosses, the expense of installing a cross and so forth. I'm not kidding when I say I observed that debate for over half an hour.

The next agenda item raised was a church in the county (10-15 miles away) that was predominantly African American who offered us a building exchange. You see, our church building was located in the heart of Baltimore and therefore located in a heavily African American community. This other congregation had the exact opposite experience being that they were located in a primarily Caucasian part of town. It was stated that this church would offer to trade buildings and reimburse our congregation for any perceived loss of value to ensure it was an even dollar-for-dollar swap. A very generous and very Kingdom-minded idea.

Do you know how long that conversation lasted? About 2 minutes. At the heart of it (although not specifically verbalized) was racism and perceived power. The idea that as deacons God had given this particular slab of brick and mortar to these men and the history associated with this concrete was too much to "trade". As a consequence of this attitude neither congregation was poised to make the most impact. Two minutes after it was raised, the question was dead. On to horse shoes (in Jesus name).

One present reality that the American Church will have to navigate is the divide between those congregations who own the facilities but aren't reaching people and those congregations who are reaching people but have no facilities. The sad reality is many of our once-thriving church buildings are now sitting nearly vacant all week. Even on Sundays many Pastors have to figure out just when to turn the heat or A/C on to ensure the least amount of an energy bill for that 2 hour window each Sunday morning.

In America for now this 'elephant in the room' is being ignored. In the not to distant future however we are going to be faced with an unusually high number of buildings no longer being used for Christian worship. All we need to do is look over to Europe to see what can become of these structures if we ignore this trend for too long. Some denominations own all of the buildings within the congregation and consequently will have to deal with this problem at 'headquarters' but in many Evangelical denominations (including my own) the decision making power is based at the congregational level.

So what can you do Mr. Deacon?

In church governmental structures that are based on congregationalism there is a high degree of influence left to the average man or woman who is able to cast a vote regarding the future use of present resources. I want to encourage churches that are declining in membership to consider a 5-10 year transition to leave a legacy by building a bridge to younger churches interested in using that space.

Will this appeal to every younger congregation? No. Some younger congregations run as far as they can from old buildings but my experience shows me that plenty of younger congregations would love to utilize historic architecture. I've even consulted with a few traditional church Pastors recently who have all but begged for me to help them find young churches to utilize their space. I think those guys get it.

Mr. Deacon, please consider stewardship of what God has placed in your congregation's hands. Please consider leading your church to finding a young congregation to bless with use and even ownership of your facilities.

My wife recently renewed my driver's license. When she did so I noticed a heart pictured on the top corner. I asked her what she did and she said "I registered you for organ donation, you won't need it. It can bless someone else." She's right. It was tough to think that someone else could be using MY organs but you know... she's right. Why not offer life to someone else?

So consider your church facilities and resources. Why not give life to someone else? Why not allow the great heritage of your church to continue through your generosity to another generation? We worship the God of "I AM" so lets utilize all we have to make much of all that He is.

I'll let you in on something you may not know. Most young church leaders love Jesus, love His church and at the end of the day have more in common with you than you may realize. The building is just brick and mortar but the life change and message of the gospel is eternal.

Also Mr. Deacon, we apologize. In our youthful zeal to take on the world we so often have ignored those who have gone before. In our thirst to answer God's call today, we've ignored the great things He's done in the past. It is my belief that we can honor the past and work toward a preferred future. With humility I pray many congregations can come to the table and make great use of all God has given the church family at large.

Do any of my readers know of any traditional churches working with younger congregations to make this type of impact? I'd love to see some links. In our area there was an amazing attempt made at this very sort of thing. I believe they are still working on it but here is a great example of a Kingdom-minded church trying to leave a legacy.

posted by Tally Wilgis @ Wednesday, July 09, 2008


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