Have you missed your church toilets during lockdown?
When members of the public were using your building, what statement did your toilets make? Did they contain free sanitary or baby changing products? Was support for survivors of abuse advertised? Were your toilets twinned? Have you practised navigating the disabled cubicle in a wheelchair? When were the walls last painted? Is the lighting low-energy LEDs?
Think about the other rooms in your premises. When people from your neighbourhood came in, did they notice how you how had listened carefully to what the community needed, and arranged the building accordingly? Accessibility? Comfort? Durability? Room layout? Décor? Safety and safeguarding? Information on display? Artwork and creativity? WIFI? Invitation to deeper relationship? Is your property fit for mission?
Some of us will be wondering, having spent so long away from our premises, why we still hung on to them in the first place. Maybe for you and your church, a property fit for mission is someone else's property. Why pour energy and money into a tired building that is past its best before date, when you could rub shoulders with the rest of the village in the community centre? Why spend all that time washing up when Costa would welcome your café worship with open arms? Why burn carbon to heat draughty half empty buildings?
In other places our mission points to needing a house of the people of God. There may be no other location which can host the foodbank, the advice centre, the lunches, the isolation-busting clubs, the support groups, the youth activities or the surgery. Too many people may gather for worship to fit into any other spaces. In which case your property needs to be fit for and organised around your mission for a pandemic-recovering world.
Some congregations have recognised a specialised calling. Their love for their neighbourhood has opened their eyes to a glaring need, and a way of responding at a cost. Sanctuaries are being transformed into soft play centres, workshops and cafes. Still places of worship for new people, but worship that is both passionate and highly contextual. Others that by opening and telling the story of an ancient sacred space in new ways they connect with a contemporary spiritual itch. Others still that by placing complex buildings in the hands of experts, a tentmaking ministry can be established and other ministries released.
Listen first. Love the people around you. Discern your vocation. If it needs a property, your district is here to help you make that property fit for your mission. Across our churches we have architects, venue managers, project managers, partnership brokers and fundraisers. We have people who have lived major transformations and little changes which made a big impact
And don't forget to say thank you to the person who cleans the toilets.
Neil Harland, Mission Development Support