A church “building project” that made a difference

Many churches get super excited about building projects. These projects are supposed to represent big changes to the church, new ideas, progress, and relevance.

Even the fundamentalist churches I’ve attended got excited about building projects, though these usually involved new gymnasiums where we could play the A.W.A.N.A “run around the circle and then go in for the beanbag” games rather than stadium seats or new stages for the worship band.

Still, the idea is the same. If we build THIS, they will come. THIS will further the gospel. THIS will change the world.

Now, sometimes building projects are just needed. Pews fill up. Roofs leak. And, you know, sometimes that 70s shag carpeting in the teen room just needs to go. But the idea that a building proejct is going to shake the foundations of the earth is usually a lie that pastors hype up in order to get in your wallet. That new building isn’t going to single-handedly bring about the kingdom of God.  Let’s be real.

Though, sometimes a change made to a church building/property does make a difference. I’m going to tell you a story about one of those times.

I’m going to tell you about a church that made a drastic change to their church property–they added a tiny sticker to their church sign.

 And that tiny sticker made a difference.

On one hand it infuriated some. After that little sticker went up, some protesters flocked to the scene, with pamphlets calling that little church with their little sticker on their sign “The Church of the Anti-Christ.”

On the other, the entire time I lived in the town where that church was located, I heard about that church, because of that tiny sticker.

When I talked to others about how one of the reasons I stopped going to church was the horrible way some of the LGBT people in my life had been treated by churches, I often got the response, “Have you tried the church on Church St.? They’ve got a rainbow flag sticker on their sign.”

When I talked about how exclusive and hateful churches often were, people–people who didn’t even go to church themselves, people who were atheists or pagan or just didn’t care–would say “Have you tried the church on Church St.? They’ve got a rainbow flag sticker on their sign.”

Even in counseling, when I was talking with my counselor about trying to reconcile my religious beliefs with my political beliefs, she told me, “Have you tried the church on Church St.? They’ve got a rainbow flag sticker on their sign.”

That year of my life was one in which I was really not ready to try any churches. Not even the church on Church St. with the rainbow flag sticker on their sign (though, when I move back to Bowling Green next summer, I think I’ll be ready to visit that church more often. I plan to). I only attended twice, but both times were pleasant. They were concerned about inclusion, love, and justice.

And everyone in Bowling Green knew it.

Their little “building project” made a difference. 

I think Christians fall all over themselves trying to change the image of the church. People don’t think that church is relevant, so Christians panic, throw out the organs, add some stadium seating, and hope that will make everyone see church as hip and cool.

Christians don’t stop to think that maybe the fact that people are starting to see church has irrelevant has NOTHING to do with how our buildings look.

They don’t stop to think that maybe the church’s million-dollar renovations only sting like salt in the wounds of the poverty that surrounds us–the poverty that the church often perpetuates when it fights against laws that would make life better for LGBT people.

They don’t stop to think that, maybe, just maybe, if they became more like the First Presbyterian Church of Bowling Green, Ohio,  and educated their congregations about LGBT issues, supported pro-LGBT legislation, performed commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples, openly welcomed and affirmed people of all sexual orientations and gender identifications, and donated food and money to their neighbors in poverty…

Then maybe, just maybe, the only “building project” they would need in order to make a difference would be to add a little sticker to their church sign.

Image via Mary Jane Saunders
Image via Mary Jane Saunders
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  • Wow! Such a simple solution to increase awareness and interest.

  • HD

    I lived in Bowling Green for four years and started attending First Presbyterian in the “pre-sticker years.” As a lesbian, I was hesitant when I first walked into this church, because I was new to town and I didn’t know what to expect. Although I was greeted with kindness and love, I felt nervous about my status. Was I welcome because they were willing to look the other way about my love life, or did they really accept and affirm me as I was? Then, they bought the sticker. I had heard they had ordered one, but it didn’t really register to me until I was driving down Church Street on my way to get a cup of coffee and saw the sticker. As I gazed upon that little sticker on the sign,I felt a great weight lift from my shoulders. My church cared about people like me so much that they were willing to let everyone in the community know that we were welcome there. Walking in the door the next Sunday was like coming home after spending years living in exile. Although I’ve moved out of the area, I will never forget the love and kindness offered by the folks there on Church Street. God bless First Presbyterian Church of Bowling Green.

    • 🙂

    • Reading things like this just makes me happy and hopeful for the future.

  • This goes for more than just this issue; the Church needs to communicate to everyone that we care about the right things. And when I say things, I mean people.

  • LOVE your blog. Just liked a lot of your posts. I am also a recovering fundamentalists. Mine is a little bit different since I grew up in the homeschool culture, but very much relate to what you are saying. Keep it up!

  • Hmm. I may just need to get some of those stickers. One for the car, one for the bike.

  • Amy

    The church we’ve been attending has one of those little stickers. I heard from one of the choir ladies yesterday how it happened. They decided as a whole church to make that change, to be an open and affirming church. They lost some people, of course, but the little sticker on the door has led to people coming in, too. Last spring, I saw the sticker when I dropped my daughter off for a Girl Scout event. When we went to find a new church, I remembered it. It makes a difference.

  • Nan H

    Actually seeing the sign with that little rainbow square made me think of the early Christians. When they saw the “fish” they knew they were in the right spot. And at the same time, it expresses the fundamental Christian creed: Love thy neighbor.

    Thank you for this post.

  • when you welcome them in your church and if they ask for a church wedding can your church wed them? Is it a local church decision or sanction by the whole Presbyterian Church?

    • PC USA as a denomination does not endorse same-sex marriage, but some PC USA churches (especially those involved in More Light Presbyterians) do affirm them and are working to change that in the denomination. Also, this church is in Ohio where same-sex marriage is not legal. I’m not sure if any congregations would perform marriages in states where it is legal or if they’d be prevented from doing that by the denomination (I’m not personally part of the PC USA). This specific church performs commitment ceremonies. Not “legal,” but something that let’s the couple affirm their relationship before God.

  • Well said Sarah. All of it, but I was particularly struck by the observation that million dollar renovations rub salt in the wounds of the impoverished around us. My wife and I were part of a building program that was huge, costly and riddled with illegal designs (fire code violations). That was close to 20 years ago and the pain of that experience linger even today. All folks wanted was a showcase, not something practical to fill community needs. In fact ideas for the building that would allow us to serve the poor and especially single parent families were flatly dismissed. Today it is a mostly empty shell with scarcely enough folks to pay the bills. Members of the LGBT community would not be welcome there. Heck, Democrats aren’t real welcome.
    Anyway, thanks for your piece. It was a good way to start my morning.

    • I was a member of a church that ended up with huge cash-flow problems because of a million plus dollar building project that wasn’t even needed. (That’s not my judgment – the group in the church the project was designed to benefit flat-out told anyone who would listen that a single paragraph change in the church policy on room reservations in existing space on Sundays would solve the ‘problem’. The project proceeded anyway.) A lot of people stopped giving in distaste of the project until the building debt was paid off — and this was in a church that had ‘what part of the budget should we apply this to?’ designations on all the offering envelopes.

      Meanwhile, the youth of the church were bailing over social issues, in many cases as soon as their parents were no longer the ones driving them to church. Democrats not welcome, LGBT allies not welcome.