Emergency plan


Well, we finally did it. We put together an emergency plan. It’s not airtight, or written down, but it’s a floating agreement between me and my husband in case of a future attack. We don’t have all the supplies we need, but we have a stash of clean water, and the duct tape’s on the grocery list….

Lest you think we’re paranoid, my church is a few blocks from the White House, and a stone’s throw from the State Department and the Saudi Arabian Embassy. Our daughter goes to school in Arlington. She’s a ways from the Pentagon…but still.

When we were putting this strategy together, we had to imagine the worst catastrophes happening near my office, on the subways, or near the school, and what would be a level headed response. As an optimistic thinker who goes through life always expecting the best, this was difficult. But, we both knew it was necessary. Around here, you’ve simply got to have a plan.

A little later, I went to a gathering with my writing group. For some reason, we talked a lot about the denomination. I was still swallowing the yearly stats. Especially the one that says 78% of our churches are made up of 150 members or less (stats come from the Outlook, but they’re difficult to link, because of their registration system).

We know that God works in small churches, we know that numbers don’t reflect how the Holy Spirit moves in a particular congregation. However, we can also deduce from those numbers that nearly 80% of congregations in my denomination are having a really tough time supporting a pastor. And I’ve never heard of a church thriving without a minister.

Is it time for an emergency plan?

Here are the first three steps in my plan:

(1) Support and plant small (ex)urban churches. Young adults (on the whole) don’t like megachurches. What do we like? Research shows that we’re drawn to small, traditional congregations. This is great news for the mainliners. We have a plethora of small, traditional churches in our denominations, so we’re perfect for meeting the needs of young adults.

Unfortunately, young adults are also moving out of rural areas. They have to be in or near cities, because that’s where the jobs are. But, this fact also presents more good news, because this matches the migration of new young ministers. Most of us have to be in places where our spouse can get a job (if we’re married) or where we can have a life (if we’re single). (My apologies to rural church leaders, if that last statement offended you. I loved pastoring my rural church, but I can’t imagine trying to date in Abbeville, Louisiana.)

(2) Support dynamic pastors. We all know really amazing pastors who are in difficult churches where their ministries are trapped. Nominating committees overlook them because they’re too young, too old, single, not the right gender, not white enough, etc., etc. Or they may be geographically bound because of their spouse’s job. In the midst of these obstacles, can we still make sure that our fine leadership flourishes?

In our emergency situation, we can no longer let dynamic pastors flounder. If there’s no place for them in current congregations, we can make a space for them, and make sure that they’re paid well.

(3) Get creative with real estate. Our hulking church dinosaur buildings are eating up entire city blocks. Their energy inefficiencies are destroying our environment and leaving congregations with whopping gas bills and continual maintenance headaches. We come together to worship God in massive spaces that are designed to reflect the grandeur and glory of Creator, but too often they echo failure because there are so many empty pews.

But we can begin designing architecture that’s beautiful and energy efficient. We can become savvy with our land, and figure out how to lease it, sell it, or at least use it for a community garden.

Wow. I’ve gone on way too long, and I didn’t even begin to touch upon all the new opportunities we have as congregations regarding social activism, the peace movement, vital spiritual disciplines, or new technologies. And what would you add?

I guess that even while constructing an emergency plan, I can’t help but be excited by this amazing, unique moment in history.


8 thoughts on “Emergency plan

  1. I like your last two posts a lot. especially about young adults liking smaller churches, which I intuit is true. (although I’m not a young adult.) There was an article in our local paper about small emerging churches being popular. Of course a lot of them fail as well, but they are not saddled with some of the buildings our older/used to be bigger churches have.

  2. great post, this is my first visit and i will definately be back! i’m also looking forward to reading your book.

    you are absolutely on target about the church buildings being a drain both spiritually (repesenting failure), economically, and financially. we finally got our church to have a community garden and it’s been a huge blessing for everyone–including the community. additionally it looks beautiful!

  3. revhipchick,

    I’m so glad you came to visit! And, I’d love to hear more about the garden. It sounds wonderful.

    We don’t have a community garden, per say, but we do have an herb garden for Miriam’s Kitchen, our breakfast program for the homeless. The children plant it on Earth Day, so that the chef at Miriam’s can have fresh herbs when he needs them.

    It’s a great way for even the smallest kids in our church to become active in the community.

  4. Wanted to echo the interest in the community garden. I’d love to hear more about the logistics of how that got organized, etc. Who oversees it, how much work is it? what do you do with the produce? Is it ever unsightly so the neighbors complain? All that stuff! It sounds like such a great avenue of ministry if you have a little space (which we do, for the next couple of years until we build)

  5. I was going to say one of the problems I think with some of our “small” churches here where I live is that they used to be bigger. I remember going to visit one, and thinking, with the people, what a nice little church! And it was a nice progressive little church. But the sanctuary was so large for the number of people, and my husband said, “how would you like preaching to a half empty room?” I think that’s a problem. It’s aesthetic, I know. Also, the financial upkeep of the building is a problem, and drains some of the energy of these “nice progessive little churches”.

  6. Yes! You’re right.

    It’s like visiting the vibrant widow who used to live in a house full of children, but now she’s trying to keep up with that six-bedroom place, and can’t quite manage it. There are so many memories in that house, and you ache at the thought of her moving. But…

    It’s a difficult situation. I love old church architecture, and much of what we’ve been coming up with in recent decades rivals Wal Mart in awful design. Yet, I hope that can change.

    Aesthetic. True. But we say something implicitly with our space.

  7. Ruth and Diane,

    There’s an interesting program in Chicago that one of our young adults told me about. They owned some land in Cabrini Green (even though Fourth is in the “Gold Coast,” CB’s a housing project a few blocks away). And, it happened to be green space, which is rare in Cabrini. So they started a community garden for the neighborhood. They got the neighborhood kids involved with planting it and taking of it.

    A brilliant use of space.

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