Tag Archives: Steve Collins

Stay Out! (but you can come back Sunday at 11)

Last year while I was running an errand, I drove by a church on 20th Street and noticed that it was surrounded by chain link fence in all directions.  The outside of the church was a mess and I assumed that they were renovating as the outside of the building needed repair.  Weeks later I was by again.  The fence was still up.  Months later the fence was still there.  After the church moved locations down by the Tim Horton’s I purchase my morning medication at, the fence was still up.  Finally it clicked in that the fence wasn’t to protect the community from a crumbling facade, it was to protect the church building from the community.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  While at college Wendy and I heard the founder him give a talk running down the idea of helping out the poor at Christmas (because they will waste it was the reasoning).

Years ago some friends of mine were at WillowCreek at their Art’s Conference.  Leonard Sweet was speaking and everyone came back and paraphrased his quote,  “You need to love the community you are trying to reach.”  It stuck with several of them and I have thought about it for months now and the idea of turning your church lot into a compound sends the opposite message.  It isn’t just compounds.

The church next door to me put on a great Halloween party for kids.  I thought it was a great idea until I heard the pastor the next day badmouthing my neighborhood on the radio complaining about the kids and the mischief kids get into on Halloween and how the church needed to send out patrols to protect the neighborhood.  His goal in having the party was to stop trick or treating in Saskatoon.  His comments didn’t really bother me that much as I ignored them but our neighbors were upset over the criticism of our home turf and they thought he was exaggerating the problem. In a decade of living there, the only problems we have had in Mayfair are my Jack-O-Lantern gets kicked off the steps occasionally.  As a response to that, he came across as being angry and resentful of where he was.

I am sure that church that has a big 8 foot fence all around it’s compound has it’s reasons.  Stuff stolen, girls working off the front steps, needles, and domestic violence.  It’s a tough neighborhood and at 6’4” tall, it isn’t always safe for me to walk home from work.  But is a giant fence around your church building the answer?  By setting up a massive fence around it’s building, it sending the clear message that you aren’t welcome here.  It also tells me that instead of trying to change the community or make it better, you are just resigned to it and are afraid.  Not all people can handle the prostitutes, those that are violent, and the theft but as I read the New Testament, those are who Jesus spent a lot of his time with.  It wasn’t just the children who he called over to him but everyone. 

This church took it further than most but most churches do it.  Wendy has to work most Sunday mornings and Saturday nights.  Where does she go to church now that many churches don’t have a Sunday night worship service?  She doesn’t have a scheduled night off which makes it hard to do things like a small group.  One commenter a couple of years ago pointed out that those that the church says are the most needing of salvation are by the hours they work, the least likely to come to church.

I’ve often thought of the assumption that those who don’t fit in with the regular programming don’t deserve it. Thinking particularly (in my area) of the strippers, casino workers, prostitutes, and restaurant employees who work late in the same neighborhoods, working with the same clients.

How about a 3am service. That’s when a lot of folks are finishing up work.

We think that once they find Jesus and change their life, and get a new job, and fit into our lifestyles that then they’ll fit into church.

That’s crap.

The church as Third Space I have often wondered why churches don’t open themselves up and make themselves third spaces.  I have linked to Steve Collins (blog) stuff on church and third spaces before and many of us (by your response in comments) has agreed with it and yet too many churches still look like fortresses instead of open spaces.  You have probably heard your own excuses for why it can’t happen, I know I have heard mine (locks would have to be rekeyed, worried about internet porn on the computers, lack of supervision) or people look at what the Freeway has done in Hamilton and think it has to look like that when it really doesn’t.  At work we host one out of our chapel and dining room.  My favorite third space in Saskatoon is the deck of City Perk in the spring and summer.  It is a gathering spot for everyone in City Park.  With free wifi, the deck is a great place to read, work, or meet up with friends.   A couple thousand dollars could open up your church to the entire neighborhood but you have to want to be open up to the entire neighborhood.  Contextually it looks really different.  A third space in your hood may be reopening and running a neighborhood hockey rink and warm up shack.  It may be an unused place of your church made into a place to work, study, write, and chill out like Paragraph is in New York.   It may be investing heavily in the kids of your neighborhood, changing the culture, helping kids stay in school.  I was watching an interview with Indianapolis Colt’s coach Tony Dungy tonight and he mentioned that in Indianapolis, 19% of kids graduate from public schools.  When 4/5 kids are dropping out of school at time when education is more important, there has to be opportunities.

When I hear church planters talk about church planting in Saskatoon, they talk about the creative class off Broadway Avenue.  A place full of better then average coffee shops, art galleries and pubs.  Who wouldn’t want to live and pastor a church in that area?  I think of my friend Karen Ward who speaks passionately of the neighborhood she planted Church of the Apostles in and how they waited until they could find a place in the neighborhood until they planted.

As I was reading Jane Jacobs over the holidays, I was drawn to her idea that if we want to create safer neighborhoods, we may be better off creating neighborhoods that people care about.  Neighborhoods with art, open spaces, and places where people like to congregate.  Whether that is on church property, on the front yard or down the street.  Investing on making the places better in the end will pay off and create places that are safer, more secure, and community focused.  Does that take longer than tossing up big fences or complaining to the press about hookers on your front step (a church on 20th years ago complained about how inappropriate it was for prostitutes to be hanging out on their property—a church is the last place a prostitute should be according to their complaint)?  Of course it does but by retreating behind your wall, you are neutering your ministry and making it worse for your neighbors and in the end yourself.

It makes sense but if you want to be somewhere else and you are just in a certain part of town because of convenience or cheap rent, it is going to show in everything you do.  Especially when you are saving rent but resenting your neighbors.  A little money in the bank may be nice but I wonder if it is worth the cost to the Kingdom.

The Church in an Age of Scarcity

A couple of weeks ago Jason Evans started to post about the recession and the church which started me thinking as I was reading Howard Kunstler’s excellent book, The Long Emergency (Wikipedia summaryFull text available on at Google Books) for about the third time.  If you haven’t read it, you need to.

thelongemergencyI don’t know if I totally accept all of Kunstler’s findings.  While I accept that technology today does not allow us to deal with the problems of living in age of scarcity, technology in a capitalistic society does tend to bridge a lot of gaps when the capital is there for innovation as it will be in the future.  At the same time I accept his statement that the western world as we know it is not based on democracy, Christianity, or the pursuit of liberty, it is based on cheap oil and natural gas.  Of course we are running out of those two commodities…

The upshot of all this is that we are entering a historical period of potentially great instability, turbulence and hardship. Obviously, geopolitical maneuvering around the world’s richest energy regions has already led to war and promises more international military conflict. Since the Middle East contains two-thirds of the world’s remaining oil supplies, the U.S. has attempted desperately to stabilize the region by, in effect, opening a big police station in Iraq. The intent was not just to secure Iraq’s oil but to modify and influence the behavior of neighboring states around the Persian Gulf, especially Iran and Saudi Arabia. The results have been far from entirely positive, and our future prospects in that part of the world are not something we can feel altogether confident about.

And then there is the issue of China, which, in 2004, became the world’s second-greatest consumer of oil, surpassing Japan. China’s surging industrial growth has made it increasingly dependent on the imports we are counting on. If China wanted to, it could easily walk into some of these places — the Middle East, former Soviet republics in central Asia — and extend its hegemony by force. Is America prepared to contest for this oil in an Asian land war with the Chinese army? I doubt it. Nor can the U.S. military occupy regions of the Eastern Hemisphere indefinitely, or hope to secure either the terrain or the oil infrastructure of one distant, unfriendly country after another. A likely scenario is that the U.S. could exhaust and bankrupt itself trying to do this, and be forced to withdraw back into our own hemisphere, having lost access to most of the world’s remaining oil in the process.

We know that our national leaders are hardly uninformed about this predicament. President George W. Bush has been briefed on the dangers of the oil-peak situation as long ago as before the 2000 election and repeatedly since then. In March, the Department of Energy released a report that officially acknowledges for the first time that peak oil is for real and states plainly that “the world has never faced a problem like this. Without massive mitigation more than a decade before the fact, the problem will be pervasive and will not be temporary.”

Which will mean that we need to make some changes

The circumstances of the Long Emergency will require us to downscale and re-scale virtually everything we do and how we do it, from the kind of communities we physically inhabit to the way we grow our food to the way we work and trade the products of our work. Our lives will become profoundly and intensely local. Daily life will be far less about mobility and much more about staying where you are. Anything organized on the large scale, whether it is government or a corporate business enterprise such as Wal-Mart, will wither as the cheap energy props that support bigness fall away. The turbulence of the Long Emergency will produce a lot of economic losers, and many of these will be members of an angry and aggrieved former middle class.

Over the years I had a lot of discussions on what this will mean to the church.  Chris Marshall is wondering the same thing

My truck is paid off but the gas prices are killing me. I don’t drive that much and its over $300 per month, not including my wife’s car. So what does this project to as a national economy? Recession seems inevitable, will it go way beyond that? A nation already ruled by fear and over-spending with no margins by individuals and the government, what will be the consequences?

How will this impact churches and mortgages and credit lines that can’t be fed? As builders pass on who are the committed givers what is left? 1/2 of boomers are there to give and the other 1/2 are driven past their financial margins with consumerism and can’t help. Gen X and Millenials have very little value in long term commitments, are all about instant gratification and consumerism is their native language. Commonly this group of up and comers are living on 125-140% of their income taking on exponential debt per year. What will be the result of these decisions having no margins when the shoe drops?

Will American churches go the way of their European counterparts? Becoming really funky coffee houses, restaurants, art galleries and dance clubs. Just things I wonder about.

I know a couple of people who are the boards of Bible colleges and seminaries who talk about getting new projects done in the next couple of years before the builders who give most of the money to churches and institutions pass away.  After that they know that the money will be in far less supply.  On top of that, while churches like to talk about sacrificial giving and committed tithers, most studies show that people give when the economy is good and are more casual tithers.  When faced with higher heating costs, much higher fuel prices, and more money to go to food, will the cash go to paying the churches bills or their own bills?

One thing that economists have been saying for a long time is that our lifestyle is being financed by VISA and when a recession hits, it will hurt those that are carrying debt the most.  In 2004, Maclean’s ran this story about Canadian’s personal debt being at record levels.

And so this summer Russell Kent and his wife, Mary, joined the legions of other young families in opting to ignore the admonitions they’d heard from their parents and taking the plunge into home ownership. They bought a house in the suburbs north of Toronto – and in the process have run up their debts far above anything they’d ever imagined. The house cost more than the top amount they’d intended to spend. They had to drain much of their savings and load up on personal lines of credit to muster a 25 per cent down payment. In total, they now owe roughly $340,000, spread across a mortgage, three lines of credit and two credit cards. Every month, $920 goes to pay interest on the cards and bank lines, and another $1,460 toward the mortgage. Mary also spends $300 a month to lease her car. Debt payments eat up close to a third of their after-tax income. Russell says making ends meet over the next few years will be “like stretching a gnat’s ass over a rain barrel.”

If the Kents feel intimidated by the debt challenge ahead of them, they’re not alone. Collectively, Canadian consumers now owe $752.1 billion, according to Bank of Canada, up 36 per cent in the past 10 years when adjusted for inflation. Over the same period, personal disposable income, or take-home pay, has risen 15 per cent. In other words, Canadians are piling on debt more than twice as fast as their income is growing.

It is conceivable that many churches in a particular region of the country could find themselves in a horrible financial mess when funds drive up and the demand on church and other social services intensifies.  While many recessions are relatively short lives to the last big one in the 1970s, there are many who are forecasting the next economic meltdown to last much longer.  Of course this will hit the church in a couple of ways.

  1. visamc The Church, Powered by VISA.  Several friend who are pastors bring up the point that their churches have some serious debt and if giving goes down then things will be really tough… of course the good news is that banks aren’t all that thrilled with foreclosing on banks but have been known to demand spots on church boards as a condition for continued solvency.  For churches who are owing to their denominations, the money that comes from those investments is now tied down which impacts other areas of church life.  Depending on the denomination, it could have a serious impact on church planting/missions or other areas that are dependent on investment income (as if the downtown in the economy won’t have a big of enough negative impact).  Even in a church of people committed to tithing (which Barna reminds us is a rarity), 10% of a reduced income is still less.  Add on top of that rising food and fuel costs, we may have a lot less to give above and beyond.
  2. Running on Empty| With today’s gas price at $1.31, Wendy and I are driving a lot less then we ever have before.  I am walking to work and if Wendy wasn’t on medical leave, she recently was transferred down the street to 33rd Street Safeway.  She says that even at -40 degree Celsius she is walking (I’ll believe it when I see it) to work.  I was listening to a podcast with Todd Hunter who talked about that at a church he previously pastored, they would track how far people were driving to the church.  At Lakeview, we used to talk about being a city wide church where people used to drive in as far as Borden to attend church there.  Will people drive at $1.50 a litre, $1.75 a litre, $2.00 a litre?  Kunstler talks about a localization of the economy in The Long Emergency and I wonder if that applies to the religion as well.  Will the small Baptist church at the end of the street look more attractive then the regional megachurch on the outskirts of town?  Especially when you can do as Charlie Wear blogs about where he found his sermon to listen to last week on YouTube.  Of course some are going to say, video churches are the answer and they might be if you believe that only dominant alpha males have the right to speak about how to deal with stress in your families for 14 weeks straight.  I personally prefer the idea of local expressions of Christian community throughout the city.
  3. Expensive Natural Gas | When natural gas was cheap like borscht (which itself is becoming more expensive) I hated visiting mostly rural churches that lowered their ceilings to save on heating costs.  Now they are looking smarter and I look out of date.  Most churches are really costly to heat and keep functioning for what is still primarily a Sunday event.  Of course you can keep it cold in there during the week and hot during the summer to keep costs down but churches are pretty expensive to run considering many of them aren’t used that often compared to other facilities their size.  There are other options that can be used.  Look at how the Freeway uses their space for the community or as I have blogged about forever.  Of course there are a lot of options for making it cheaper to heat but perhaps going the other way and making them useful spaces again is the better option.  nomoreteavicarI keep thinking to what Steve Collin‘s did up as his efforts for rebranding the Church of England.  He was re-imagining church interiors as public spaces again in the city, the local church as a third space, a place to work, rest, and pray and being surrounded by spiritual resources as opposed to something that was open from 10:30a to 12:30p on Sunday’s.  To answer Chris Marshall’s earlier question, maybe the future of the church is to embrace what the Europeans are doing to churches before the churches themselves die off.  Of course the other alternative would be to start weaning ourselves off our addiction to church buildings.  Look at what ReImagine is doing in San Francisco or what the Hawthorn House is doing in San Diego is doing without a traditional church facility. 
  4. The one other thing that needs to be addressed is the issue of the Clergy Class.  I don’t have a problem with highly educated and well taught clergy but the process to get them to this point is expensive and this is paid for by one of three methods.  1) Rich parents 2) Marry rich (this idea was suggested to me in college) 3) Student loan debt.  All three of these funding options have advantages and drawbacks but the most popular option is often student loans which tends to make hiring clergy expensive.  I am not badmouthing clergy but if we stick with the current method of church leadership, the economics will need to be rethought out and since our current best idea is debt financing, I doubt there is a pile of money out there to fix the issue.  Either we figure out a way to make private education a lot cheaper, we accept the fact that only wealthy churches get qualified church leadership, or we rethink ways to develop leaders.  During the Great Depression, my grandfather’s theological education came through correspondence classes.  During the age of YouTube, I am sure we can come up something as least as effective and maybe quite a bit better.

I am a disciple of Thomas Homer-Dixon and I tend to think that there will be an upside of the coming age of scarcity.  I think the church has a tremendous opportunity during this period of change.  Of course a lot of things we think are sacred cows will be turned into black angus burgers but c’mon, it isn’t as if we did that well during the age of abundance anyways.  While managing to start a bunch of megachurches, we also managed to usher the church into a very long period of decline and irrelevance and that was after spending billions and billions on church growth.  As we enter into a new age of global warming, scarcity, and perhaps conflict over resources, maybe the church adapt a little better this time.

Also: Alan Creech has posted some more thoughts on his blog

Church as a Third Space

This is a concept that I have been talking about since I first posted about Paragraph NY.  While the post wasn’t about the church, a bunch of pastors talked about how they all wanted something like that to go to.  My response was that you already had a place like that and all you needed was to add some wifi, a couple of comfortable chairs near plugins, and open the doors.  Of course there was a lot of reason by the same people on why it could never be done.

Steve Collins is asking people to reimagine church as a public space again.  A space with free wifi, good coffee, personal and spiritual resources being available, as well as a space for work, rest, and prayer.  Pernell has some good thoughts on what a third space is here .

Seriously, this would work, all it needs is someone for a vision for it happening and the willingness to rethink what the church is for during the week.

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This is from Steve Collins via Bill

Imagine the unlocking of the doors.
Imagine the re-emergence of church interiors as public spaces in the city.
Imagine if the worship installations could stay up all the time.
Imagine your local church building as an open-doored hangout.
Imagine sofas, visuals, newspapers, books, food, drink.
Imagine a church with good coffee.
Imagine a church with plenty of places to plug in your laptop.
Imagine opening hours 10am to midnight.
Imagine spiritual resources and personal space available at all times.
Imagine a place to work, rest and pray.

Your living room only bigger. Your life only bigger.

Rolling community:

The constant presence of staff & punters deals with the commitment problem. It creates ‘rolling community’ – there’s no need to all be in the same place at the same time. It works like Cheers or the Queen Vic, or films like ‘Slacker’ and ‘La Ronde’ – as one set of characters leave another set arrive. All are connected by the bar staff [who themselves come and go] or one or two members who exchange groups. These are bearers of news, conveyors of messages etc. Everybody does some connecting in this way. The community is a network, not a spoked wheel dependent on a few at the centre.

Wow, I really like that. I am imagining this… The link it to an archived view of an old page. If it is online on the new Small Ritual, I will link to it.