I’m a church socialist. There. I said it.

Recently I was helping a synod in the ELCA (my denomination) undergo an evaluation of one of their church plants.  Anyhow, there I learned about an event the synod had put on to try and get local “resourced” (read: those with money) churches to start building relationships with local church plants (read: those without much money).  The thing with starting a church in the ELCA is that there is, rightly so, an expectation that local established churches will give financial help to the church plants. House for All Sinners and Saints has had great luck with this…receiving needed financial help from about 8 or 9 other congregations.  But the event that was held was one in which 6 churches that have a lot of financial resources attended a lunch where the 8 new churches put together 4 minute presentations about who they are and what they are about; the idea being that the resourced churches would then choose who they wanted to possibly give money to.

Before I get back to my thoughts about this kind of event, I should say this: new churches need the help of existing churches.  But existing churches need new churches too.  We might not have much cash, but new churches are nimble.  We don’t have to deal with recalcitrance, committee structures “we’ve always done it this way-ness” and other barriers that established churches face. (We have the same number of problems mind you, just not always the same kind of problems).  I know that at House for all Sinners and Saints we attract a population that, for the most part, would not darken the door of a nice suburban mainline church.   It is also a population I call the “over-educated/voluntarily poor” meaning they mostly are graduate students, full-time volunteers, non-profit workers and inner-city school teachers.  Out of 140 people at HFASS we might have about 8 white collar incomes. But what we do have is a ton of freedom to play around with and reinvigorate the tradition in ways that have been eye-opening and helpful to more traditional churches. We are the innovative edge which is bringing new life to the core of the church.  If the whole Church was innovative edges without a core it would collapse.  But the opposite is true as well.  Without new growth on the edges the core will die.  We need each other, you know…like a body needs all it’s parts. (HT: Paul of Tarsus)

So…back to the resourced churches/new churches speed dating event.  I propose the following changes:

Resourced churches should be invited to commit to financial support of new churches above and beyond the money they tithe to the denomination.  Then the tables should turn and the churches with resources should prepare a 4 minute presentation about who they are and what they are about which will be presented to the new churches who then get to choose who they partner with.  Why you might ask? Because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The first shall be last and the last shall be first.  The ways in which I myself and the Church in general believe and behave otherwise is pretty whack.

So, if you serve or attend a church that happens to be flush financially then I propose that the money is not yours with which to build an even bigger sanctuary for your congregation.  Maybe it belongs to The Church and could (perhaps, should) be redistributed to help churches that serve populations with less resources.

Yep.  I’m a church socialist.

P.S. We at HFASS, even though we rely on support from others, give $1,000 of our yearly offerings to a church which is even newer than we are (The Humble Walk…you should go look them up.  I love, love love them).  Again, we have our own problems and are not a shining example of perfect church-ness, but if your church isn’t doing this give it a try.  It’s awesome :)

About Nadia Bolz Weber

I am the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more at www.houseforall.org

  • vicki

    Got that right! Love it. Drove past s large, wealthy suburban church yesterday. I recalled when it was built – spending large sums on….chalices for communion- meanwhile inner city churches were closing. Some shudder at the thought of wealth distribution as socialism. (“Evil”) I thought it was sharing. Acts 2 anyone?

  • Miguel de Jesus

    Very good, but HF-ASS? Reminds me of the time we came up with Denver Urban Ministries and had to call it Den-UM, otherwise…

  • http://www.spiritualevity.com Mark Ristine

    That makes some sense. Wondering if it would fly with a lot of the “have” churches?

  • D.E. Bishop

    Yeah! What she said! I’ve been leading very small, struggling, rural churches for several years. Now in living in St. Paul, MN, serving as a chaplain for crazy people. It’s good work with really interesting clients. Anyway . . .

    Many in MN considers it the hub of Lutherandom, and there are some really Big Bucks congregations. I attend a little wandering church, that has just wandered back home. For about 4 years we were partnering with a UCC church as we both tried to find a way to unload our huge old brick and stone churches for something more affordable so that we could make better use of our resources. My ELCA church, Salem English Lutheran in Minneapolis, has been steadily receiving help from other congregations.

    Just before Christmas, we moved back into our old building. It has been completely gutted and renovated, and all the additions were razed. We have three small sanctuaries and many classrooms, a full service kitchen so we can provide meals to the neighborhood, and three partners to spread expenses. We share the building with the UCC church and with a Disciples of Christ congregation. It’s great!

    The worship service I attend uses three jazz musicians.

    I’ve got to go. The coffee shop I’m sitting in is closing. Thanks for your blog and your comments about “Church Socialism.” I heartily support it.

  • http://brainatthedoor.blogspot.com/ Hugh

    I’m with you – the same should be happening here in the UK. To often long established churches end up looking inwards to their own needs and forget to look out to the world around them.

  • nixon is lord

    There is no god. Stop wasting your money on useless buildings and you’ll have more for poor people.

  • http://jpserrano.com j.p.serrano

    I have been a part of some affluent congregations and appreciate the way they contribute not only to the synod but to other congregations who are struggling. I think it is our job to see other congregations as sister churches.

    Cain asked God, “Am I my brother keeper?” From that point on the rest of the Bible is spent answering that question with a resounding YES.

  • jb

    I serve what I suppose you might call an “under-resourced” church. Not a plant, but barely getting by. Last year, I met with a person at a church about 30 miles which recently finished a new building project. You can probably imagine my surprise (or probably more honest, abject horror) when I found out that their monthly mortgage payment was equal to or greater than a month of all our expenses combined. Yeah. So, I think you are definitely on to something. And it’s not just about money. Our church currently lacks resources & skills in other areas, like administration, music, etc. – resources that abound in nearby congregations. Yet, these resources are not shared well, either – and I have often found ecumenical partners much more eager to minister together in a shared way.

    What would happen if we seriously looked at what we need and then shared the rest with other churches, or better yet, used those resources to decrease ‘world suck’!

  • http://koinonia21c.blogspot.com Matt lenahan

    First, we need to address the capitolist lust for more $ and bigger things as a sign of success. Second, we have to address the capitolist insistence on competition in the marketplace as the healthiest way to do business. Why? Churches are competitors basing success on which one is the biggest, richest, and most talented. This is not gospel of the kingdom, but way-of- the- world stuff to which the church has largely resigned itself. I love the blog post, Nadia. I am a church socialist too. Because the disciples/apostles embodied this way as a sign of the resurrection and the coming reign of Christ. They shared their stuff. Big established churches should partner with small, innovative churches because that is the way the church stewards its gifts. But church people have to defect from capitolist greed and competition first.

  • nigel

    trouble is with church socialism is that despite its good intentions , it is still prone to human judgment of who is to be helped with money . there is only one way for the poor and that is full socialism , where they will own the means and tools of production themselves.

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