My ebook The Virtue of Dialogue: Conversation as a Hopeful Practice of Church Communities was released last week by Patheos Press, and in it, I argue that open conversation is essential for the health and flourishing of church communities and the places they inhabit.
Over the next two weeks, I will be running a 10-part series that I am calling “Becoming Conversational” in which I offer suggestions for how churches might enrich the conversational life of their church communities. (Some of these ideas have been adapted from my earlier ebook, Growing Deeper in Our Church Communities, which is available for free download here.
#5) Engage the Whole Church in Caring for the Church Property.
An important conversation for churches to have is a discussion about how we care for the things we hold in common. Many churches have a staff person who oversees the care of the church facility. Although I certainly wouldn’t advocate for terminating anyone’s job, this position is one that can often be eliminated or minimized when a church is willing to talk and work together. It would be exciting to see churches encouraging these staff people to instead focus their energies more on the creative work of reflecting on how the church’s building and land could be used throughout the week, and leave the actual cleaning and maintenance to members in the church. It will take some conversation — and maybe difficult conversation — about how to make this shift, but ultimately helping to care for the church property will give members a deeper respect for and engagement with the church community. One church that I used to be part of had a rotation where different small group cleaned the building from top to bottom each week, and there were enough small groups that each group only had to clean the building a handful of times each year. This arrangement, of course, is not the only possibility; in fact, there are a wide range of possibilities of how the work of cleaning and maintenance can be spread across the church body at large.
Caring for the church property is an active way to remind the church community that we are not just a religious consumers with an otherworldly focus. Rather we are a real community, with things we share in common and must take care of together. If there was a person who previously did the work of cleaning and maintenance, there will still be coordinating work, but there is also great work to be done in imagining ways in which the church building and grounds can be more fully used throughout the week. Church property is typically one of the most underutilized sort of facility. The building could be used for office space for ministries or even small businesses, or it could host neighborhood organizations, arts programs, etc. Understand that there will be costs involved in the use of the space. Even if groups clean up meticulously after themselves, there is still the cost of the utilities used in the meeting space for heat, cooling, lighting and water. Discuss how your church wants to handle these costs – are they paid by the church as a gift or service to the neighborhood? Will the group be asked to pay part or all of the cost of the utilities? Or, more creatively, perhaps you could find something the neighborhood group could do that would benefit the church and offset the energy cost (e.g., painting, mowing, etc.). It is not difficult to see that these ideas open up many more conversations, but they are good and important ones for the flourishing of our churches and neighborhoods.
And finally, speaking of flourishing, there is much good work that can be done to more fully utilize the lands that our churches own: community gardens, wildflower meadows, fruit trees (or any kinds of trees really), etc. Again, these are a host of good conversations to be had, and certainly there are people in our congregations who are gifted in ways that they can coordinate this week. Furthermore, it is good common work that will draw us into a deeper life together.
(We’ll take a break over the weekend and return Monday with the next segment of this series…)
Tomorrow: #6 Spread the “Pastoral” work of the church around.
Yesterday: #3 Engaging our Neighbors more Intentionally.