Pastor, I think you have that backwards!

by Bill Davis

This Sunday at 6pm will be our Kossuth family gathering. (and, we always should remind our newer folks that this is for the ‘whole Kossuth church family,’ not a focused parents/children event… we want everyone!) One of the things we plan to do is have a vote on the next step in our building revamp: that is, spending $ on the construction documents that will result in a guaranteed maximum construction cost. If you need to see more discussion on that, see last week’s blog here and its several attachments.

In the recent presentation of the building proposal, we invited you all to think, pray, and dialog with us elders as we seek God’s direction for this potential project.  We’ve received helpful comments and had some good email exchanges. It’s not every day you get to read someone else’s email, but I’ll give you access to one of mine. It was a recent exchange regarding our proposed building revamp and specifically the notion and expense of the project that includes adding an elevator. While it doesn’t address all that could be said, hopefully it’s helpful to you in guiding further thoughts and discussion.

Background: Someone felt we hadn’t shared sufficient rationale to spend the money we are estimating for the project, especially for an elevator. They found the following reply helpful, so I thought why not share with the rest of you! 

Since you mention specifically the elevator I will speak to that as an example.  In a real and tangible way, without full access to all our building/events, etc. we are effectively communicating "we don't want/need you" to those for whom the stairs are a barrier.  I read an account of a well-known person, who is bound to a wheelchair, talking to a pastor about not having an accessible facility, ramps, etc.  "Oh, we don't have anyone in that profile so we really don't have a need in our church," the Pastor declared.  The response was "Pastor, I think you have that backwards!" (i.e., he was overlooking a rather obvious cause & effect of not being accessible!) In your job, I think you are well aware of the many messages of marginalization unintentionally communicated to those with extra needs and how they feel dismissed.  Without a means to make the whole facility accessible, we're silently shouting, "We really don't care about you.  You don't matter that much.  Find another fellowship because we're not it."

We as a whole may not feel the 'pressing' nature of this as we might with a lack of seating or parking (since that would be intuitive/obvious to more of us).  But consider a few of these (historical) examples alongside principles in Gather, Grow, Scatter:

  • Effectively forcing the 'seniors' to huddle in a class unto themselves (which admittedly has pros/cons in their eyes),

  • A high school student in a wheelchair that can't participate in youth activities that we hold upstairs.

  • Older generation women can't get to a class upstairs which ironically is about connecting women intergenerationally (and having the class downstairs wasn't an option for the same constraints that those who can't navigate stairs wouldn't be able to participate in the non-women's class)

So, we can't always effectively 'Gather'.  We cut off some individuals' tools for Growing (let alone the benefit, as you're more keenly aware than many, that comes for a more fully integrated group).  How likely is it that those individuals are going to bring others to Kossuth as they 'Scatter' among their circles?  (Not!)

But, let me speak just for a minute beyond the elevator.  What about the whole project?  Why enhance our spaces for nursery/toddler and the more open foyer room?  And how does this in fact align with (let alone advance) our mission?

First things first, the 'church' is NOT the building.  The building is a tool.  Could we have church without this building?  Absolutely.  Could we liquidate our entire property and still pursue a GGS mission?  Resoundingly, yes.  But would it be an entire re-invention and rebuild of the local body that is Kossuth Street Baptist Church?  Most assuredly.  So, in our *context* of ministering with using the building as a tool for a variety of GGS activity (that is then to carry on *outside* the building, such as the times in a Community Group living room, the coffee shops, in your workplace, playing softball, etc.), we want to make sure it's a sharp tool for the job.  To probably take the tool analogy a bit too far, no one wants to chop down a tree with a dull axe. This revamp enables us to take more advantage of the square footage we already have. We're not going to spend bigger $ that would be needed to increase overall amount of space, so we want to best utilize what we have.

So, what does it mean to 'sharpen' this tool?  I've already spoken to making the whole building more accessible.  You may not realize, but there are *several* decisions we have made in recent years to have classes (or more importantly, NOT offer them) based on the constraints of which spaces groups can occupy.   But consider the gathering room that is a foyer.  It's functionally built as a passing space, but we (intentionally) have tried to repurpose as a gathering space to encourage fellowship.  It now is only half-functional for either.  Can we have 'connection' and 'gathering' without the expense of revamping this space?  Sure -- community group living rooms, coffee shops, etc. -- all means which we will continue.  But our strong feeling is that MORE of that external-to-the-building gathering/scattering will happen as we better foster/shepherd connections _within_ the building.  Making that a real connection space (which doesn't exist anywhere in the building) makes the tool of the building much sharper in this goal.  

Our building is a maze and enigma to every new visitor.  Making that entire space an 'open' space with obvious and built-in 'wayfinding' signage makes it a thousand percent more hospitable to the new visitor.  As a parent (and now obnoxiously proud grandparent) I can relay that when families with little ones are visiting a church, the facilities speak VOLUMES about safety and care.  That we have a great child safety policy and work hard to execute it well is invisible to the newcomer.  The toddler/nursery corridor with its darker corner and dated oak decor isn't even half as security-engendering as a visible, large open space that's intuitive and obvious before you even start walking in that direction.  In fact, if a visitor stood just inside our doors today, they get a center signpost with arrows pointing vaguely in directions for who would go where.  Under the new design, that visitor standing in the same spot would clearly see the 3 directions of children/youth, adult classes, nursery, etc. not because of arrows but because all of those doors/openings would be openly visible (if not even inviting) from that one spot.

Please understand all the above thinking is building-centric because of the context of these points.  That is not to say, however, that our philosophy of ministry, discipleship, and outreach is building-centric.  If we were in a different context, a different culture, etc. we might not be thinking of much of this from the same physical standpoint (although we would still be thinking about hospitality, safety, fostering connections, and stewardship).  So please keep in mind that my comments here are in specific reference to the building tool, not overall or all there is to our GGS mission.

Also, while on the subject of intersecting mission and dollars, there is a notion of stewardship.  20 years ago, K's congregation spent multi-millions for the structure we now have in place.  They could indeed have said (and probably did) "can't we do our mission without this, and just use what we have and send the rest overseas?".  No way of comparing outcomes, of course, but think of the equipping, training, and sending that has happened in those 20 years since!  I would submit the 'tool' of the newer facilities supported that in some very important albeit intangible ways.

Thanks for reading and engaging in the dialog.  See you Sunday night!