Thursday, September 24, 2009

Losing valuable real estate

Perhaps the biggest investment a church will make is building facilities. A strategic location is selected, plans are drawn up and a building fund campaign is launched. Through sacrificial giving and with hope for the future, a new building is erected.
Years later many of these congregations decline in membership and the beloved structure is now underutilized and needing repair. Eventually the church decides it can no longer endure under the current circumstances and close the doors.

I ran across this situation in New Orleans when I was starting a Spanish-language church in the basement of an Anglo church. Another Anglo church, six blocks away, was disbanding and wanted to sell their building. The money would go to missions.

Acting quickly, I petitioned that the property be turned over to my new church start. Why pay real estate commissions to sell the property and again, later, when we would buy another property. Moreover, my mission field was this very neighborhood.

My argument prevailed and my small Spanish-language church took possession of the building. I was able to recruit an intrepid team of seminary students who developed a thriving ministry in that building including an English-language service, a mid-week youth service, free music lessons, a free summer day camp, food pantry and other services to the community.

This church became a training lab for seminary students, many of whom went on to work in missions around the globe, and a blessing to the community. It even provided an apartment for me that supplemented my modest salary.

There are many inner-city church properties that are being underutilized and, worse, sold off. These properties are in the midst of deep spiritual and economic poverty. It is possible that these properties could be used to house non-religious or faith-based community-based ministries. These ministries could pay for the utilities and upkeep. On Sundays the pulpit can be filled by ministry students and lay preachers who are looking for an opportunity to preach.

This would meet the spiritual and physical needs of the community and take advantage of a building built through sacrificial giving and with hope for the future. We cannot continue to retreat from the areas in our cities where the gospel is most needed.

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