What’s The Best Use of Our Church Space?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’re curating a series on NEXT Church resources. Members of the NEXT Church communications team, staff, and advisory team are selecting resources already on our site and sharing the ways they have (or would) use them in their ministry context. We pray these will be of use to you in your own ministry! Have other ideas for resources you’ve used from our website? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jen James

In his Ignite presentation, Mark Elsdon shares a story about how creative revenue generation and a major impact investment turned a campus ministry on the verge of closing into a vibrant multi-million dollar ministry serving 750 students per year.

Whether you are considering a big project like Pres House or a small project to better utilize your church building space, this exercise would be great for:

  • A session meeting
  • A building committee meeting
  • A gathered small group of visionary church members

Before watching the video, ask the question: If someone wondered in off the street and asked, “what happens here?” how would you respond?

Now, watch the video.

Here are potential discussion questions:

  • What ministries of your church will your community be talking about 111 years from now?
  • Mark says, “But how was this spark going to turn into a lasting flame without some fuel?” What are the sparks in your community? What are the things about which you are dreaming?
  • What are some creative and innovative sources of fuel in your midst? Do you have some “literally in your backyard?”
  • If there was no chance of failure, what risks would you take to creatively use your space?
  • Who could be your supporters and partners in an innovative building/space project?
  • What would be a first step to consider adding fuel to a spark?

Continuing the Conversation:

Where else can we do this? What are the institutions that are ready to diversify and make more of an impact with their capital? What are the social enterprises that you can think of for those funders to invest in?

Jen James is the National Gathering coordinator for NEXT Church. She lives in Alexandria, VA were she is also a facilitator and educator-at-large helping to equip congregations. 

2016 National Gathering Ignite: Robert Hay Jr

Robert Hay Jr, ruling elder at First Presbyterian, Peachtree City, GA, and ministry relations officer with the Presbyterian Foundation, shares insights on stewardship.

Lead Testimony – Mark Ramsey and Kristy Farber (2014 Minneapolis)

Mark Ramsey and Kristy Farber’s testimony entitled: Leading When We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know.

Here are their slides:

And the notes:

We are GRATEFUL for emphasis this year on “LEAD – CREATE – DISCERN.” “LEAD” has been under-served by NEXT— pastors and Sessions. We’re not experts – we can only tell what we have experienced. We are in a medium sized church in Asheville, NC. Terrific group of people – all ages, lots of life-long Presbyterians, but also just as many former Roman Catholics and former Baptists – Sense of SAFETY is important… Several pastors of GCPC has had some kind of minor to moderate to serious boundary challenges which at times means we have to refocus on TRUST. We would tell you how many members we have but we are really not sure.  We only spend 15 minutes a year on the statistical report that we have to give to GA which we have never found relevant …and we have a lot of people who are people participating with us who we don’t know what to call as membership fades away as a relative category. In the last few years, our 25-45 year olds now meet and exceed our next largest group in the church which is 65 and older, which we have achieved without the usually bells and whistles that attract that group…. some of which we understand (we’ll talk about it in a minute) …. and some of which is why we labeled this talk “Leading when you don’t know what you don’t know.”  Cause we don’t know… Younger members we see 1 in every 3 Sundays. Older ones we see almost every Sunday. We try to keep what is ESSENTIAL – we don’t know what we don’t know.  NOTHING is obvious or predictable in church life—We EITHER love that…or we will be miserable – growth or not! We have a long list of failures…one of which is committees. We reorganized committees and arranged for a committee night where we would meet and worship together once a month. It worked great….one time. SEVERAL attempts at alternative worship have…failed, but we started a new one yesterday. We’ll see how it goes. Small groups never took off. Like many of us, we’re asking, is the building important? It’s a resource, but ALSO a DRAIN… Here are some things we’re doing that are working: …Session went from 35 to 14 …Session meetings are around 75 minutes – not every month …BIBLE STUDY + ARTICLES is the focus of our work. We fund the theological and Biblical imagination of Session members above EVERYTHING ELSE (business, reports…etc…) …When new members join the church.  We don’t have a class – Mark likes to offer a 3 hour class on Calvin, but instead, the professional staff meets individually with each new member or family to get to know them personally – to hear their stories and find out what their spiritual needs are. …We LEVERAGE LEADERSHIP to NOT feed energy on useless things… This is our biggest bet.  If we are wrong about this–we are out of business. … This is OBVIOUS…but one of the challenges of LEADERSHIP is looking for the “magic potion”  or the “special insight or gimmick” which will turn things around.  Recently, another mainline pastor got together with us to find out what we were doing to be so successful.  He’d heard about Grace Covenant…He was genuinely disappointed when he learned that there was no magic bullet.  What we told him, and what we are here to share with you, is there are no shortcuts and no magic wands. We talk about JESUS—relentlessly— At our Annual Meeting in February, we asked our congregation to consider our ministry… and what there “is no substitute for.” Here’s what they said:

  • trust
  • authenticity
  • nimbleness
  • curiosity
  • openness
  • content
  • competence
  • healthy boundaries
  • working (no shortcuts)
  • imagination
  • leadership
  • kindness
  • joy

Here’s what we tell ourselves and others about our guideposts:

  1. Be reliable—return phone calls/emails promptly.
  2. Don’t make it about you—because it’s not…be well-defined leaders; tend the family system of our ministry—every day
  3. Boundaries….SERIOUSLY. When I arrived at GCPC there were boundary challenges and easily fixable things like solid doors without windows.
  4. Work hard – work smart. Much of ministry is incremental!
  5. Take care of yourself/take time off, but don’t overly spiritualize.
  6. Feed opportunities and starve problems. This is LEADERSHIP – we steer where energy and attention goes.
  7. Church has to feel different than the rest of folks’ lives!
  8. Strategic planning is largely a waste of time—but strategic thinking is essential! (Pay whatever cost you have to help you system be NIMBLE.)
  9. BUILD a network – expect to do that – don’t wait to “get picked”
  10. No substitute for loving our jobs.. 

There are a few things we’ve done that are going well. 1) A Sermon series/theological imagination: –we want to nurture a theological conversation with the congregation; –lectionary doesn’t help much –democratize the conversation/ get people engaged/be accountable 2) Faith survey –giving it/sharing it changed conversation –engaged Session, members, new folks—they were part in building it 3) Using our Resources Used to be the “church behind McDonalds.” Now we’re the church with the garden.

4) Strategic planning vs. Strategic thinking:

There are two major growth producers there were NOT on anyone’s radar 2 months before we started deploying significant resources to it: 1) the garden. 2) real.life.stories (Storytelling events)   Look, this is just us—we are describing, not prescribing. We have discovered that we can EITHER struggle, or see these challenges as a FEAST – we know God likes FEASTS. Ministry today is hard, it is a challenge…and we love it…

[Editor’s note: Our apologies that there isn’t video with sound. The video from the LEAD testimony at the 2014 National Gathering is somewhere out in the ether, but we don’t have access to it.]

Here is a copy of the Faith Survey they talked about as having changed the conversation at their church. Also, visit the website real-life-stories.org to check out the storytelling ministry they’ve started.

MaryAnn McKibben Dana (Minneapolis 2014)

MaryAnn McKibben Dana closes the 2014 national gathering with this sermon: https://vimeo.com/94479075

Dan Vigilante (Minneapolis 2014)

Dan Vigilante preaches for the 2014 National Gathering. https://vimeo.com/94242505

Young Adults and the NEXT Church, by Nathan Are

https://vimeo.com/93626514 This was part of the Ignite series at the 2014 National Gathering.

Relational-izing the Presbytery, by Rob Ater

https://vimeo.com/93616036 This was part of the Ignite series at the 2014 National Gathering.

Teaching Discipleship, by Sara Hayden

https://vimeo.com/93612753 This was part of the Ignite series at the 2014 National Gathering.

Southern Heights Food Forest, by Leanne Masters

https://vimeo.com/93996821 This was part of the Ignite series at the 2014 National Gathering.

Partnership Models for Ministry, by Katy Stenta

https://vimeo.com/93992762 This was part of the Ignite series at the 2014 National Gathering.