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 Hortonâ€™s I purchase my morning medication at, the fence was still up. Finally it clicked in that the fence wasnâ€™t to protect the community from a crumbling facade, it was to protect the church building from the community. I guess I shouldnâ€™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 Artâ€™s Conference. Leonard Sweet was speaking and everyone came back and paraphrased his quote, â€œYou need to love the community you are trying to reach.â€ 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 isnâ€™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 didnâ€™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 itâ€™s compound has itâ€™s reasons. Stuff stolen, girls working off the front steps, needles, and domestic violence. Itâ€™s a tough neighborhood and at 6â€™4â€ tall, it isnâ€™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 itâ€™s building, it sending the clear message that you arenâ€™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 wasnâ€™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 donâ€™t have a Sunday night worship service? She doesnâ€™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.
Iâ€™ve often thought of the assumption that those who donâ€™t fit in with the regular programming donâ€™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. Thatâ€™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 theyâ€™ll fit into church.
I have often wondered why churches donâ€™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 canâ€™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 doesnâ€™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 Coltâ€™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 wouldnâ€™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 propertyâ€”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.