Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Downsizing But Not Calling It Quits

One of our ABC/NYS pastors recently called my attention to an article about what churches can learn from the “Tiny House Movement.”  This is where people move into houses measuring 150 to 600 square feet to simplify and focus their lives.   They ask:  What do I really need to live? Then they get rid of everything else.  There is even a show on HGTV entitled “Tiny House Hunters.”  For many years we have heard about downsizing our living space as we age.  We realize that we simply don’t need as much house as we used to need. The “Tiny House Movement” is like extreme downsizing.

As I thought about this, the First Baptist Church of Oneonta came to mind.  This congregation was struggling under the responsibility and financial burden of maintaining a building that was much
larger than they needed.  Their resources and time were absorbed in preoccupations that no longer enhanced their ministry.  They wanted a grander purpose than paying the gas bill and monitoring the roof.
They were not, however, interested in calling it quits as a congregation.  They still had energy for ministry and an ongoing commitment to one another and their community.  They simply wanted to get back to their core purpose of equipping one another for ministry and sharing the love of Christ.  Their building had become a hindrance and was no longer a useful tool in that endeavor.  They made the difficult but brave decision to sell their church building and start using the parsonage as their base for ministry. 

I visited the congregation several weeks ago and was delighted to see the transition they are making.  We worshipped in the living room, rearranged as worship space.  The service felt warm and lively.  One could feel the depth of the relationships among the worshippers.  After the service we ate in the dining room and had a good discussion about what they were learning through their experiences.  It felt much like the discussion an extended family might have at a holiday meal.  I thought back to a meal and discussion I had shared with them about 18 months earlier in the large fellowship hall of their old building.  The difference as remarkable. The atmosphere was more upbeat; they seemed to feel a sense of liberation from a burden they had been carrying for quite a while.   As we sat around the table in their new home, they were honest about the challenges they have overcome and the ones that still lie before them.  They are still not sure precisely how their future will look, but they are walking into it by faith trusting in God.

Gail Irwin, in her book Toward the Better Country:  Church Closure and Resurrection, talks about the menu of futures from which churches can choose when they come to a critical juncture in their lives.  First Baptist Church of Oneonta has cast their lot in the direction of resurrection.
Jim Kelsey
Executive Minister-American Baptist Churches of New York State