In my work as a consultant for mission and capital planning I have become drearily familiar with the church version of a popular real estate show, “Love It or List It”.
- Some congregations hunker down in their cherished but decaying facilities, renting derelict empty space out to anyone who’ll take it in a pattern reminiscent of the tenement landlords in Charles Dickens’ England. The members keep gathering in smaller and smaller groups, disconnected from the community around them and fundraising to keep the lights on until the last one passes away;
- Other congregations take a quicker path to demise: having exhausted their energies on building upkeep, they throw in the towel and list their property for sale to whoever wants to buy it. The result is visible in many urban centres across the country: facilities for public worship and neighbourhood ministry sold off and converted into “unique private condominium lifestyles” suited only for people of means.
I have come to believe that neither of these two scenarios represent the best stewardship of the land and economic assets our forebears in the faith have passed on to us. Not only is the value of these assets degraded through the “Love It or List It” approach - we also sacrifice genuine opportunities to respond to the Gospel call within changed communities around us. The Good News is still needed, still life-giving in the places our church facilities are located, and by choosing to either hunker down or bail out we eliminate for ourselves the opportunity to live the Gospel in a new day.
Congregations and communities deserve a better approach than “Love It or List It”. That’s why I have developed the Three Circles model for evaluating and revitalizing congregational community mission.
Think back to your Middle School math class, and the Venn Diagram the teacher used to help explain the properties of numbers. Our Three Circles approach works a similar way: in the first circle, we consider the unique faith identity of your congregation, its values, its heritage, the special traditions that give meaning to congregational life. The second circle takes in the community context - an honest appraisal of the social agencies, businesses, community and municipal structures, and neighbourhood relationships around your church facility. And then, in the final circle of the three, we consider the facility and land assets themselves - what are the regulatory and economic factors that impact church property, and what possibilities exist for new missional purposes in your location?
At the intersection of the Three Circles, we can identify the point where your congregation’s character and legacy connect with the community around you, to allow new ways to deploy your assets faithfully and effectively.
My work with a number of congregations has shown me that a Three Circles approach can open up new directions for mission and ministry effectiveness that would never come to life if we’re simply thinking “Love It or List It”.