Saturday, August 8, 2009

When Churches Become Real Estate Developers

I read this story in this morning's The Washington Post. It talks of several megachurches (all on the evangelical side of the spectrum, I'm guessing from the names) who have created real estate developments with a church as part of the plans. Often, they include low or moderate income housing and/or housing for the elderly too.

In a way, I think that's brilliant. I remember during the 80's, that some downtown D.C. churches, including Luther Place, bought or developed row houses that were in the same block as the church. They turned them into places where people could get social services, as well as some housing for the oppressed. But that was small scale, compared to what the churches in the article are attempting.

Part of me loves the idea. I'd love to live in the same neighborhood as my church, and I think I'd like to have my church members be neighbors. It would be easier to pray together, to study together, to take nightly walks together. It would be easier to tend to the church property if it didn't involve getting in the car.

Part of me worries though. I know that the demands of church property often drives the church budget, which means that few resources are available for true ministry. When I was church council president, worries about how to tend to the property took an inordinate amount of time. I began to see the wisdom in keeping churches small--small enough to meet in people's living rooms. I began to see the wisdom in keeping the church mobile--Jesus sending out the earliest church, two by two, with very few possessions. The more possessions you must tend to, the less time/energy/money you have to tend to the lost sheep of the world.

It's an interesting idea, though. My mom and dad are looking at Lutheran retirement communities, and part of me feels a twinge of jealousy. For me, of course, it's out of the question: these places are too far away from any possible work I might do and they're way too expensive for normal working folks. But these experiments that I read about this morning? Those bear watching as a possible model for the rest of us. Something to ponder, something to dream about . . .

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