Saturday, January 2, 2010

Location Location Location


An old adage states that the three most important factors in buying a home are "location, location, location". Perhaps the same could be said for where church workers spend most of their time. After wrestling with this for years, I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that a church building may not be the best location for church employees to do their work.

For some, this realization is nothing new. They have rejected the need for a church office and choose to spend all of their time in the community. For others, this sounds like another excuse for lazy ministers to have little accountability while sipping expensive coffee and calling it "work".

For me, it's somewhere in the middle.

Of course, we can't dismiss the importance of context. The "location dilemma" has many factors. For example, if someone is a solo pastor in a small town where church doubles as a community center , they might be best served spending the bulk of their time at the church. Conversely, if someone is a youth minister on a big staff at a downtown church in a big city, they may be better off hanging out in coffee shops and restaurants than being one of several people at the church. Then again, maybe not. Unlike some other cultural shifts in expectations of ministers, it seems the answer to the location dilemma is entirely context-specific.

The church where I work as a youth and family minister has around 1,000 members. We are the only ELCA church in the Des Moines area that includes the name of the community in the name of the church - Windsor Heights. However, only 2% of our members live in that small suburb. In terms of youth & family households, about 30% live in Des Moines, 65% live in surrounding suburbs, and about 5% reside in Windsor Heights. For a variety of reasons (including a brutal 25mph speed limit on the main drag) only a handful of these people find themselves near the church, aside from attending specific church functions. The occasion where a non-staff person would knock on my church office door unannounced is rare (unless an adult small group needs help setting up the DVD player or moving chairs around).

On the other hand, there are a few local restaurants where I can do my office work in the middle of the day and have a good chance of seeing people (mostly parents) grabbing lunch with co-workers or friends. The same is true for finding teens at a handful of coffee shops after schools dismiss. I think that seeing people - and being seen - is a good thing for church folks. It reminds parishoners that discipleship is more than just a Sunday thing. At times, running into people has led to fascinating conversations. Other times, it's a brief "hello" and an introduction to the people they're with. Having impromptu weekday encounters with these people is invaluable, and leads me to think that being "out and about" might be more effective than hunkering down at the church all day...

...for now.

What do you think? Should church employees spend most of their time at church? What factors should be a part of that decision? If you are in church work, where does your most meaningful ministry take place?

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