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The priest stands in the sanctuary. He is near the front pew, facing the back of the sanctuary looking at a tall stained glass window. The image is abstract – it is bright, blue, red and orange. With his arms crossed, the priest says, “We spent over $100,000 taking care of this sanctuary last year. I can’t keep going a year at a time reacting to everything that needs fixing.”

I couldn’t agree more.

The purpose of your congregation’s building is to serve your mission. Yet, like this priest has experienced, many congregational leaders feel they are servants to their buildings.

This is why the Indianapolis Center for Congregations hosted a Sacred Space project. We worked with leaders from 50 congregations in central Indiana who wanted to improve their buildings to serve their greater purpose.

The three-step process
With these 50 congregations, my colleague Nancy DeMott and I learned a three step process to help leaders match their congregational building to their missions.

 

Here are the three steps:

  • Discern
  • Decide
  • Do

We learned that those who effectively address their building issues, whether shoring up older buildings or constructing new ones, follow this clear three step process.

Questions to ask yourself
Discern includes addressing the following questions:

  • Who are we as a congregation?
  • Who are our neighbors?
  • Who is God calling us to be?

Decide involves addressing these questions:

  • What do we want our building to convey?
  • What approach to building will we use?
  • What service provider will we use?
  • What sources of funding will we seek?

Do contains these questions:

  • How will we keep the congregation informed?
  • How will we maintain our spiritual focus?
  • How will we ensure the work is done well?

Those who thoroughly answered these questions moved successfully through their building projects.

Resources you can use
We captured this knowledge in a book titled Holy Places: Matching Sacred Space with Mission.

Getting started in the right direction is essential. If you think you are at the discern stage, the book titled When Not to Build is a good resource. It is not as negative as it sounds, and it provides solid advice for decision making.

How is the priest faring with his building concerns? I heard from him recently, and he said that the building was no longer sinking the parish’s energy. He said, “One night at council, I stopped a discussion about the latest needed repair with a question: ‘Who is God wanting us to be?’ That changed everything.” The priest said someone suggested they begin a building feasibility study and get their house in order. “Since then,” he said, “We are one step ahead of the leaks and creaks!”

Discern. Decide. Do.

May your building project lead you to deeper and richer life as a congregation.


Tim Shapiro by Tim Shapiro

Tim is president of the Indianapolis Center for Congregations – the parent organization of the CRG. He began serving the Center in 2003 after 18 years in pastoral ministry. He holds degrees from Purdue University and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Tim has served as alumni-in-residence at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, a commissioner at the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly, and studied family systems theory under Edwin Friedman.

tshapiro@centerforcongregations.org