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Types of church buildings – tent, temple, museum

Christmas is a time for reflection. People might find an opportunity to think about their church buildings and mission rather than react to all the day-to-day issues. The book Fresh Expressions of People over Property by Audrey Warren and Kenneth H. Carter Jr. offers valuable pointers to review one’s own approach. This 120-page book has seven clearly structured chapters, each ending with a set of practical questions that provide hands-on support for people managing church buildings.
Using the theologian Walter Brueggemann’s book The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge, the authors structure the discussion according to the types of buildings experienced by the Israelites, as well as many current communities of faith.
 
The early development of faith communities started with the bare minimum, for example, worshipping in a Tent and using whatever resources were to hand. What followed next was Temple Life with flourishing ministries all around and the church building providing a safe haven for all. The next stage, according to the authors, is what they describe as Museum Life. Many people remember and cherish past relicts and events that they experienced in connection to the building. But at this stage, very few people develop new activities based out of the building. Using “Fresh Expression” methodology, the authors outline ideas and processes for how to engage communities of faith in Missional Life. The book finishes with a brief but notable section on church life during the Coronavirus pandemic.
 
The authors begin each chapter with case studies. In a second step, they seek to respond to the situation with suitable scripture readings to encourage biblical reflection. This is followed by strategic considerations about the management of the building. By bringing the two often antagonistic perspectives together the authors enable reasonable, modern stewardship for church buildings. 
 
Both authors are experienced ministers in the Methodist church. The book offers insights into today’s situation from a wider perspective. The readers learn about a long-term evaluation of church mergers and other developments, following how they play out over 50+ years. 

Several side comments let the reader pause, reflect and most of the time nod in agreement. There are theological reflections such as considering the building as “a tool to help us love more people in the name of Jesus Christ” (103) and practical comments, “Our culture today does not restrict holy space and holy time to a fixed hour on Sunday morning… So, if we are going to spend time, money, and talents on holy space, it must sustain a variety of purposes.” (32)
 
When focusing on land and space for communities of faith, the Canadian reader might find that a reference to responsible land use or discussions about land recognition is missing. 
 
It should be remarked that Brueggemann’s approach to land and site has been discussed and developed further. The book lacks reference to further reading material for people who are questioning the concept as it is used here. 
 
Individuals or teams focused on church buildings might find this a helpful workbook to guide them through difficult questions as we encounter them in today’s world.
 
The link here will lead to the last questions to enable pastors and key leaders on their journey to “prioritise people over property”.

Feel free to reach out to Katja Brittain at Katja@tucc.ca if you wish to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog.

In April 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic lockdown, Cameron Trimble hosted a panel conversation on the financial stability of churches. The link here leads to this insightful discussion about churches having to be more creative and to imagine different ways of doing church. For example, one of the speakers, Diana Butler Bass, compares churches of today with the experiences of churches during the Great Depression, noting that churches that grew then empowered everyone to lead and focused on the social gospel.

Training and resources to equip leaders to become missional in outlook and practice - check out the website of The Innovative Ministry Centre (IMC) at TUCC.   
Katja Brittain - katja@tucc.ca
 
Katja Brittain joined TUCC in 2018. With Master degrees in management and theology from universities in Germany and Scotland, Katja’s work with churches is informed by experience in both the public and private sectors. Building on years of research and networking, Katja helps congregations balance the need for revenue with the use of property as an asset that supports the congregation’s mission.
The Toronto United Church Council works with the church community to connect resources with ministry. Offering access to professional advice, financial support and leadership development, Council helps our church address the social and spiritual challenges of the day.

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