How will your congregation’s value be assessed?

Years ago, I was having coffee at a café in the shadow of a large, historic congregation. I struck up a conversation with the barista who eventually asked what I was doing in the neighborhood. I explained I was meeting the pastor of the church next door. “Oh, really?” she replied, “I had no idea they were still open.” I confess, I didn’t have the heart to share the story with the pastor.

Today’s article features a great organization that helps congregations ask questions about their ministry -- of their buildings, of their community, of all their assets -- for the sake of our neighbor. Chad Martin helps congregations not only stay open, but actually be open to the Spirit’s work within and beyond their doors.

Yours truly,

Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders   


How will your congregation’s value be assessed?

Chad Martin

When Urban Grace, a new church development in Tacoma, Washington, inherited its church building from its predecessor in 2005, the congregation took on the stewardship of a unique 40,000 square foot, “skyscraper” facility full of challenges and opportunities. Like many historic sacred places, the building had substantial deferred maintenance needs. But it was also valuable space, situated in the heart of the city’s downtown theater district.

In the years since Urban Grace began, its building has become home to over fifteen nonprofit and arts groups, including studios for individual artists and office space for therapists and social service providers. Every week the congregation coordinates a free breakfast program, supplemented by a monthly foot care clinic run by the University of Washington Tacoma’s physician’s assistant program. And every Saturday the building swarms with over one hundred students for music lessons and rehearsals for the Tacoma Youth Symphony -- which also performs in the 850-seat sanctuary several times each year.

Faithful stewardship of sacred places means not only investing congregational resources for the preservation and upkeep of iconic buildings. Faithful stewardship also means investing time, energy, and expertise to maximize the use of such facilities for the common good.

As Ben Robinson, pastor of Urban Grace, put it recently, “For the city as a whole, our value will be assessed not by what we do for our own kind, but what we give to the city.”

Of course, this is not a new sentiment. Yet until only a couple decades ago, few if any resources existed to assist congregations in evaluating their effectiveness in utilizing their facilities to maximum community impact.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, Partners for Sacred Places set out to develop such resources, resulting in the publication of Sacred Places at Risk. Among several critical findings, this research showed that among America’s older and historic urban sacred places, on average 81% of those served by programs housed there were not congregation members. And the value of services provided by the average congregation each year was over $140,000. Updated research published last year shows that these numbers have increased in the ensuing decades. Now 87% of the beneficiaries of the community programs and events housed in sacred places are not members of that congregation.

Using tools based on this research, Urban Grace learned recently that the total value of their community programs is over $300,000 annually. And just as important, data showed that over 92% of program beneficiaries are not members of the congregation. The vast majority of these programs serve the city of Tacoma broadly.

These tools and data move the analysis beyond a common false assumption that congregations must choose between investing in people or investing in facilities. Instead they show that when time is taken to measure the impact and public value of activities housed in a sacred place, it becomes clear that strategic and informed investment in sacred places is an investment in a community of people.

So, how is your congregation doing with the stewardship of its resources? If your congregation is privileged to own its own spiritual home, what tools are you using to collect and evaluate data about efforts to be a good steward of the facilities the congregation has inherited from past generations?

What partnerships are vital to fully serving the common good of your community, and what strategies will help strengthen these partnerships?

These questions are every bit as important to the stewardship of sacred places as any attention given to facilities budgets. After all, “Our value will be assessed not by what we do for our own kind, but what we give to the city.”

To learn more about Partners for Sacred Places, visit our website at www.sacredplaces.org.

For More Information:

Chad Martin is Director of the National Fund for Sacred Places, a program of Partners for Sacred Places in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Previously Martin was Associate Pastor of Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster.

Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising: Luther Seminary, in partnership with the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, is hosting a four-day intensive course, May 7-10, 2018. For more information visit: Lake Institute

Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

"Methodist Church" image by Jay.  CC image via Flickr.

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