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ERR Issue No. 74 - Jan 2012 - Shared Worship Space - an Urban Challenge and a Kingdom Opportunity

 No. 74
January 2012

EMMANUEL RESEARCH REVIEW

Resources for the urban pastor and community leader
published by Emmanuel Gospel Center, Boston 
Issue No. 74 — January 2012


In this issue: Shared Worship Space - An Urban Challenge and a Kingdom Opportunity

Introduced by Brian Corcoran
Project Director, Emmanuel Gospel Center
Managing Editor, Emmanuel Research Review

One body, one building? Being neighbors is one thing, but when churches gather under the same roof, much deeper and intricate conditions emerge that remind us of the character, nature, calling and Kingdom purpose of the Church in a diverse urban environment. In this issue, Dr. Bianca Duemling (Assistant Director of Emmanuel Gospel Center's Intercultural Ministries) begins to outline the multiple challenges and opportunities that present themselves when multiple congregations consider sharing the buildings they use for worship.

Employing a biblical, intercultural, and practical perspective, Bianca, along with local leaders and her research colleagues "hope that this article enhances the understanding of the dynamics and challenges of sharing worship space and helps congregations to develop healthy and supportive relationships with each other to manifest the unity of the body of Christ across ethnic lines."

As always, we welcome your feedback! Contact us using the various methods on the right side of this page.


Shared Worship Space - An Urban Challenge and a Kingdom Opportunity

Bianca DuemlingBy Bianca Duemling, with the research assistance of Cynthia Elias and Grace Han

Bianca Duemling has served as the Assistant Director of Intercultural Ministries at Emmanuel Gospel Center (Boston, MA) since 2010. Raised in the Southern part of Germany, close to the black forest, Bianca earned her degree in European Community Education Studies as a licensed social worker in Koblenz, and a Master of Arts in Intercultural Work and Conflict Management in Berlin. She completed her Ph.D. at the University of Heidelberg, studying emerging immigrant churches in Germany and their relationship with mainline churches. Moreover, she is a founding member of the Forum Intercultural Relations of Together for Berlin and the Foundation Himmelsfels, where she served two years as the project coordinator for an intercultural reconciliation project.

Article Contents

  • Factors Contributing to the Need of Shared Worship Space - an Introduction
  • Biblical Perspectives on Sharing Worship Space
  • Cultural Differences and Power Imbalance
  • Aspects of Sharing Worship Space
  • Advice from Sharing Worship Space - Experts
  • Conclusion: Sharing Worship Space - a Long Term Solution?
  • Resources

Section One: Factors Contributing to the Need of Shared Worship Space - an Introduction

International Community Church, Allston, MA

Sharing Worship Space is a reality in the urban context as space is very expensive and limited in availability. During the "white flight" in the 1960s, many congregations moved to the suburbs. Consequently, the number of majority-culture[1] churches in many North American cites declined. At the same time the "Quiet Revival"[2] unfolded and spiritual vitality flourished among immigrants in Boston. On every corner, new immigrant congregations emerged, often as house churches or in former storefront shops. Additionally, there is a new wave of young church planters who intentionally moved into the city to plant churches.[3]

As congregations grow and need more space, they look for alternatives. Some rent space in office buildings, hotels or schools[4], but most of them reach out to congregations owning buildings to share space. Lack of space and lack of financial means makes it very difficult to find appropriate worship space in the city.

Facts about sharing space in Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline[5]:

  • 32% of all congregations share worship space, in total 214 congregations
  • 73.6 % of these congregations share with one other congregation
  • 16.1% of these congregations share with two other congregations
  • 10.3% of these congregations share with four or more congregation
  • 82.8% of these congregations share with congregations of a different denomination
  • 17.2% of these congregations with congregations of the same denomination
  • 95 %  of these congregations share with congregation other than their own ethnic background

Different Shared Worship Space Arrangements

The most common way of sharing worship space is having two or more independent congregations under one roof. One of them owns of the building and others are invited in. This article will mainly focus on their situation. However, there are other ways to share worship space. One example is the multi-congregational model. Different language groups are gathered under a joint leadership and board of elders. This includes a joint ownership of the building. Grace Fellowship in Nashua is such an example. Two of the Associate Pastors are also pastors of the Brazilian Church and the Russian/Ukrainian Church.[6] Another rare arrangement is a joint ownership, when independent congregations build or buy a church building together.

Background and Structure of this Article

After Intercultural Ministries at Emmanuel Gospel Center (EGC) had been approached for advice on this matter several times, we started this research project to learn from the experience of different congregations about sharing worship space. Moreover, we found out that little has been written about sharing worship space well; even denominations have not addressed that issue or developed guidelines for their member congregations.[7] In this article, I draw from inspiring conversations with many pastors.[8] I thank all of them taking the time to honestly share their story and struggles with me!

The proximity of diverse congregations when sharing worship space offers a great potential to connect with each other across ethnic lines and witness the beauty of unity in diversity to the neighborhood. The reality, however, shows that sharing worship space is very challenging. It often causes much frustration for the congregations involved.

I hope that this article enhances the understanding of the dynamics and challenges of sharing worship space and helps congregations to develop healthy and supportive relationships with each other to manifest the unity of the body of Christ across ethnic lines. Making shared worship space work needs investment and commitment; there is no magic bullet to solve the challenges, and every situation differs from another.

First, I will unfold the reasons and importance for sharing worship space from a biblical perspective. Second, I will address cultural differences and how the power imbalance in our society impacts sharing worship space. After that, I will talk about how to share worship space and which different aspects need to be factored in. Also included will be advice from those I interviewed for those intending to share worship space. Moreover, in the appendix you will find some resources on sharing worship space.

Section Two: A Biblical Perspective on Sharing Worship Space

The Bible gives us many examples why sharing worship space is essential for the Body of Christ and closely connected with who Jesus wants his disciples and his Church to be. In this section I want to briefly address five biblical aspects[9] to consider in this context which are interconnected. Some of the aspects might refer more to the situation of the owner of the church buildings, whereas others are important for both parties.

The Body of Christ – a Loving Relationship

The two most meaningful passages in this context are the image of the Body of Christ and the new commandment.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul describes the church as one interconnected Body of Christ. In verses 24-26, he especially mentions the nature of the relationship: “But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that parts should have equally concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” 

In line with this image is Jesus' new commandment to love one another (John 13:34-35). Love is always more than words. Love implies consequences as described in 1 Corinthians 13. Love also means to humbly serve one another, as stated in Galatians 5:13.

Moreover, sharing housing, food, and economic resources is characteristic of the early Church, as described in Acts 4. The reference is often made to become like them again. Sharing worship space is a great opportunity to pick up the characteristics of the early church and set them into practice. Through that the unity in diversity of the Body of Christ is manifested.

Missional Impact

Another aspect is the missional impact of unity. Jesus emphasized in John 17:21 shortly before he died: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” There is a close connection between being one and the aspect that the “world may believe.” In my understanding, this verse states very clearly that unity is a key to renewal and revival. Moreover, sharing worship space, especially across ethnic lines, is a witness to the community that Jesus is relevant today. He bridges the gap of segregation and brings peace and reconciliation.

Opportunity of Spiritual Growth

Sharing worship space might not increase a church's growth numerically, but surely can enhance spiritual growth and maturity. It is very easy to talk about a Christlike life from one's own comfort zone. But sharing worship space and stepping out of the comfort zone gives the opportunity to set the Gospel in practice. It shows how seriously a congregation lives the fruits of the spirit as mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23. Hence, sharing worship space is an opportunity of manifesting a deeper kind of unity that surpasses the state of being kind to each other.

The interaction with Christians from all over the world challenges the cultural elements of our Christian practices and leads the focus on the essential Christian faith. Mutual mentoring and encouragement as well as learning from each other's strength help us to mature in Christ. It is an excellent practice to embrace our poverty.[10]

Additionally, understanding of the global Kingdom of God increases, as well as affection for other parts of the world, through the immigrant group sharing space. Thus, leaders and members can develop intercultural competency, which is a much needed skill in our diversifying society.

Good Stewardship

In the parable of the talents, God has entrusted men with bags of gold to use wisely for the Kingdom of God (Matthew 25:14-30). In 1 Peter 4:10 it is even more explicitly expressed that “each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms.” A church building, for example, can be seen as such a bag of gold that should be used wisely for the sake of people’s life and the building of the Kingdom of God.

Growing the Kingdom of God

One of the great challenges of the Body of Christ is to develop a Kingdom perspective beyond the walls of a congregation's own activities. In assisting church planting through sharing worship space or incorporating an immigrant congregation as a part of one's own mission, we are involved in advancing the Kingdom of God.

Church planting and the growth of a congregation is something that God is doing by using us. Nurturing vitality through sharing space means aligning with God’s plan.

These Scripture passages and many more indicate that sharing worship space is not just a business deal between two independent parties, but also an undertaking within the one Body of Christ. The source of consideration should be the advancement of the Kingdom of God. If growth occurs because a congregation has opened their space for a church plant, it is as important as if the same congregation would add new believers to their flock. In either case it is for the advancement of the Kingdom of God and the Glory to God.

Congregations need to shift their mental models. If one congregation is not able to send out church planters, they can still be involved in church planting by sharing worship space. It needs to be understood that helping other congregations fulfill their calling is a valid Kingdom mission and ministry.

New mental models generate different questions. It is not to ask: “How do I (or does my congregation) get the job done?”, but: “How does the job get done?” - no matter how God uses me and my congregation.[11]

Having emphasized the necessity and opportunity of sharing worship space, I also want to clarify that it might be not possible for every congregation.

Section Three: Cultural Differences and Power Imbalance

As I mentioned above, more than 95% of all the congregations that are sharing worship space do share with a congregation of another ethnic background. There is always a potential of conflict in every inter-congregational interaction, but its potential increases in a cross-cultural setting. Cultural misunderstandings and conflicts are inevitable in the context of intercultural encounter. Everyone needs to engage in the process of intercultural learning  to increase intercultural competency. It is crucial to realize and accept that in addition to our fallen human condition, our behavior is further impacted by cultural bias. Different approaches to cleanliness, time and property do not exist to intentionally try to cause problems for the other congregation, but are part of cultural differences. Therefore, there is a need to learn about patterns of foreign cultures without judging them, as well as identifying one's own cultural standards and estimating its impact on someone from a different culture. In the context of Living System Ministries at EGC we talk about primary and secondary culture as one way of better understand cultural differences. Most immigrants from the Southern hemisphere are relational or primary cultures, whereas Western cultures can be described as secondary cultures. Here are some of the contrasts[12]:

Primary Culture

Secondary Culture

1. Relational need satisfaction

1. Economic need satisfaction

2. Extended family systems

2. Nuclear or adaptive families

3. Oral communication

3. Written communication

4. Informal learning

4. Formal learning

5. Spiritual explanations of reality

5. Scientific, objective, cognitive explanations of reality

These contrasts create challenges. It is a learning process to find ways how to work best together and how to profit from each other’s strength.

I cannot go into more details about cultural differences, but “Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot- and Cold-Climate Cultures” from Sarah A. Lanier and “Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church” from Soong-Chang Rah are two helpful resources to explore the impact of cultural differences more deeply.

Closely related to cultural challenges is the dynamic of majority-minority relations.[13] Sharing worship space is embedded in the power imbalance, systemic discrimination and racism of our society, which in the context of the U.S. is rooted in the colonization of the Native Americans, the history of slavery and the lack of equal opportunities for immigrants. There is a lot of mistrust and broken relationships between the members of majority and minority culture. This historical baggage deeply influences the relationships between congregations sharing space. It is especially sensitive, as the owners of the church buildings mostly belong to the majority culture. The power imbalance might not be seen at first glance, but it subtly penetrates the atmosphere.

Section Four: Aspects of Sharing Worship Space

Sharing worship space is a very complex issue containing many challenges. Before dealing with practical details, our mental models need to be identified and some important questions are to be asked:

  • What is the motive to share worship space?
  • Which attitude/mental model is driving the decision?

During my research I observed that pastors who generally had good relationships, emphasized that the financial aspect should never be the driving motive. In some cases a financial contribution is necessary for sharing space to maintain the building. Even so, others admit that when counting all the costs there is no financial net gain. One way to not allow the financial aspect to dominate the process is to intentionally refrain from creating a landlord-tenant relationship, as the host congregation sets the tone of the shared worship space experience. One way of doing that is the choice of language:

  • Am I sharing or renting worship space?
  • Is it a business relationship or among brothers and sisters?

Although the host pastor sets the tone, the guest congregation carries the same responsibility to make it work and not take advantage of their hospitality.

Sharing space is a learning process for everyone. The involved congregations need to be educated and develop a shared vision that the overall purpose is the Kingdom of God and not where the cups are, which is nevertheless important!

In my observation, a business mentality, where the financial aspects is the only or driving motive, often becomes counterproductive. Unresolved misunderstandings and cultural conflicts can easily turn into destructive relationships and damage the Body of Christ.

Therefore, the aim of this section is to help you consider various elements of sharing worship space. I will firstly address the importance of relationships, then the possible challenges. After that I deal with aspects of the practical arrangements and ideas of intercultural encounters and joint events.

Relationship is everything

Sharing worship space has similar aspects to living in community. In order to live well together it is good to know each other's stories, vision and passion, hopes and challenges. Building relationships is a timely investment and is not done with one meeting to discuss practical details. However, over a long run the initial investment to start on good terms is worth its time as it helps to navigate through challenges. Therefore, transparent relationships, good communication, mutual respect and support, and responsiveness to each other needs are crucial.

One way to build relationships is regular meetings for prayer and fellowship between the pastors or point persons. The research revealed that most pastors meet only if conflicts arise. It is not a good basis for relationships to only see each other when something goes wrong.

Especially if sharing with several congregations, a quarterly inter-church council that includes all groups sharing a facility, has proven very beneficial.

Be Prepared for Challenges

Despite good relationships challenges arise from time to time. As mentioned in section three, they are closely connected to cultural differences. In this section I list some of the challenges that frequently appear, so that everyone can be prepared for them and think ahead of measures to avoid conflicts.

Different Worship Styles and Sound Levels. Traditional worship styles often differ in their instruments and sound level from more contemporary styles. Different cultural and denominational backgrounds include crying out loud to God, weeping, dancing, and clapping is an integral component of worship. This can create a challenge if both congregations are in the building at the same time or if the building is close to neighbors, who complain about the sound level.

Growing Congregations. Congregations can grow numerically at different paces. New immigrant churches have a tendency to be more vital and grow faster. Consequently, they need more space and have more frequent meeting times. This growth dynamic can be seen as a threat to the host congregation. Feelings that the other congregation is taking over can develop as members of the guest congregation are increasingly present in the facility.

Historical and Personal Baggage. Every person and every congregation brings their baggage to the table, such as bad experiences with former shared worship space arrangement, suspicion, or discrimination experiences.

Language Barriers. The lack of English abilities of one party creates challenges in clearly communicating expectations and navigating constructively through conflicts.

Communication. Miscommunication is the root of many conflicts. Although in the Western culture, emails are often seen as an appropriate way to communicate, in many oral cultures this is not always the case. Unanswered emails are not necessarily a sign of disinterest, but an unsuitable way to start a conversation. In such cases, a telephone call or a face-to-face meeting is much more efficient. Developing clear and healthy communication patterns can be a major step in building stable relationships.

Different standards related to time. There are two challenges relating the issue of time. The first one is the different cultural understanding of starting or ending on time. The second one is the perceived "tension" between the Holy Spirit and time. In many Pentecostal congregations, there is a deep expectation that the Holy Spirit moves during the service. So the question arises, whether time restriction is a valid reason to stop the moving of the Holy Spirit?

Different standards related to cleanliness. In every home or shared living situation the discussion about cleanliness occurs; it is the same within congregations. People have a different need for cleanliness to feel comfortable and have also different standards for what is considered a clean floor or clean kitchen.

Food. Food is one of the most tangible cultural expressions. In some congregations shared meals are an integral component of the worship and fellowship experience. However, people have a different comfort level regarding the smell of food in a church building.

Supervision of Children. Not every congregation has Sunday school for children during the service. Children can become disinterested from their parent’s worship service and wander off to other areas in the building. Unsupervised children can not only hurt themselves but also severely damage the building, its walls and equipment.

Building issues. A church building is a complex issue. The focus should always be on the people, but as good stewards it is understood to use physical resources careful that they last as long as possible.[14] This includes being sure that everything is locked, the lights are out, and the heat/air conditioning use is not messed up. It may cost the host congregation hundreds and thousands of dollars if these issues have not been taken care of thoroughly. This needs to be understood by those using the facilities.

Unauthorized use of supplies and equipment. It happens again and again, that a congregation uses supplies or equipment of the other congregation. Not necessarily to take advantage of the other, but because they forgot something or run out of it.

Violation of the agreement. The basis of shared worship space arrangements is an agreement how and when to use the space. There is always a chance that this agreement is violated or the agreed upon financial contribution is not made.

Commitment to the neighborhood. In many cases, the host congregation feels a commitment to their neighborhood and wants to reach and serve their community. Thus, they try not to upset the community through poor parking or high sound levels. The focus of the guest congregations often is a specific target group and not the community. This may be especially true, if they have no office space, come just for the worship service from all over the city, and see sharing worship space only as a short term option.

My intention to list these challenges is not to overwhelm the reader. If the question arises why to share worship space in the first place, please read section two again!!!

Being aware of the challenges can prevent the shared worship space experience to become counterproductive. The obvious question is, how to avoid or to address these challenges. As I said before, there is no simple answer or magic bullet to it. Some of the challenges might be solved more easily, such as paying a cleaner together or having a translator for conversations. But most of these challenges mean a lot of work and need the right attitude and willingness to make it work. The congregations need to be educated and involved. Conflicts need to be addressed with grace and love. Honesty and transparency are key in the communication. Good relationships help to navigate through these challenges.

Practical Arrangements

So far I have addressed the reasons to share worship space and its challenges, but what practical arrangements need to be set in place?

Every situation is different, therefore shared worship arrangements differ from each other. In this section I will present different ways to deal with the practical arrangements, as suggested by the congregations we interviewed.

Agreement. Shared worship space arrangements are mainly cross-cultural, thus often they are encounters between oral or written cultures that have different ways to come to an agreement. In any negotiation this has to be taken into account. As mentioned above, the attitude regarding sharing worship space is expressed through language, hence it is recommended not to use business language such as "renting" or "contract." In most cases it is helpful to have the arrangement in a written form as a basis that can be revisited when there are misunderstandings. The "agreement" or "covenant" should be developed together and only contain the most basic information. Avoid creating a "catalog of rules," which implies distrust, reduces mental flexibility, and is less relational. Working together towards an agreement gives a chance to clearly communicate each other’s expectations. A common practice is to renew the agreement every year and see it as an opportunity to reflect on the experiences and adapt changes if necessary.

I also strongly suggest getting to know each other before you talk about details and share the stories of the congregations and the personal journeys in ministry.

Basic Elements of an agreement:

  • Contact details of pastor or point person
  • Description of use (time and space)
  • Shared cost
  • Condition of use:
    • Basic building rules
    • Insurance
    • Supervision of Children
    • Use of kitchen
    • Cleaning instructions
  • Termination procedure

Here is proven and tested example of a covenant developed by International Community Church (PDF, 80 KB).

Sharing of expenses. There are different ways of sharing expenses. Some congregations ask for a contribution for a monthly use, a hourly use or per session. In some cases, the amount of contribution differs with the size of the congregation.

Many congregations see the building as a blessing, however, the maintenance, especially of old buildings, can turn into a huge financial burden. The guest congregation needs to understand that maintenance and repair costs tens of thousands of dollars a year and it is not at all inappropriate to be asked for a contribution.

Insurance. No matter whether there is a written or oral agreement, insurance is a very important issue. Accidents always can happen and things break all the time. Without insurance coverage small things can become an unbearable financial burden. Often each congregation is asked to have their own insurance. The host church should receive a copy of the insurance policy. The insurance company “Church Mutual” (www.churchmutual.com) has been recommended. It has a special “tenant” insurance.

Organizational issues. There are three basic organizational issues: (1) time and space, (2) cleaning, and (3) storage space, which need to be addressed and clear to everyone.

Time and Space.

First, each congregation has defined times and rooms they can use. A magnetic calendar in the hallway, for example, is a great way to provide transparency. Each congregation has a color and can reserve the time and space they need additional to the fixed service times. The first congregation, who reserves it, can use it. This procedure is well tested by the International Community Church.

Another possibility to communicate this clearly is to use a joint Google calendar, where people can book space depending on availability. It is important that pastors have agreed on how to reserve the facilities and that the use of space is communicated ahead of time. Nothing is more frustrating for both congregations to come to the church building and find that the space is already used. Good communication on that issue is crucial. Moreover, there should always be enough time for smooth transition, clean up and set up between two events.

Cleaning. Second, as cleanliness is a sensitive issue, it should be agreed on how the congregations have to leave the space. If the chairs need to be stacked up a specific ways it should be kept easy and be explained clearly. It is helpful to have a plan in each room. If this is a reoccurring source of conflict, one way to solve this issue is to hire a custodian or a cleaner together.

Storage Space. Thirdly, each congregation has different equipment and material for their gatherings, therefore it is important to provide enough clearly labeled storage space for each congregation. There are different opinions on whether this space should be lockable, as, ideally, the basis for the relationship is trust.

Other aspects to consider

Sharing other resources. Depending on the shared space situation even more resources than the facilities could be shared, such as a copy machine, Internet/WiFi, audio/visual equipment or even human resources, such as an accountant or church administrator.

Billboards/Signs. It was recommended that groups have a sign on the outside of the church building that indicates everyone who is sharing the facilities. This is not only helpful for members to find the space, but also reflects a certain community among the congregations.

Shared Worship Space arrangement on each other’s website. Another way to demonstrate a commitment to recognize and care for each other’s congregation is to display the other congregations on the website, as, for example, Ruggles Baptist Church does.[15]

Intercultural Encounter and Joint Events

Sharing worship space is more than a functional relationship, as it reflects the one Body of Christ. Joint events are a visible expression that Jesus Christ connects people across cultural lines.

Although it has been emphasized, especially by the church building owner, that sharing worship space is building the Kingdom of God, only a few congregations intentionally are seeking to build personal relationships with members of other congregations. The interaction is often reduced to the pastors or one joint service a year if at all.

The reasons are lack of time or the lack of enough space to hold joint events. Some pastors of the guest congregations indicated that they think any joint activity needs to be initiated by the host congregations.

The intentions to do something together are there, but there is no driving force, no one who takes it on and starts to organize it; therefore, nothing is happening. Whenever the time was invested and joint services or picnics took place, everyone remembered it as beneficial and a learning experience.

However, generally there is little understanding for the importance and opportunities to build personal relationships across congregations, especially across cultural lines.

Besides the fact that it is personally and spiritually beneficial to develop relationships across cultural lines, the opportunity of outreach is immensely overlooked. A multicultural experience which reflects the love of Christ is very attractive, especially for young, urban non-Christians, as diversity reflects their life situation.

The following suggestions for joint events were provided by the congregation we interviewed.

Guiding principles of joint worship services:

  • People from each congregation are involved in preparation
  • Short sermons in each languages so that everyone has to sit through a ten-minute devotion in another language
  • Joint worship team with songs in different languages
  • Short interview/testimonies of one person of each congregation
  • Fellowship with shared meal

Other possible joint events:

  • Vacation Bible School
  • Soccer games
  • Youth events
  • Marriage seminars
  • Community outreach events
  • Building cleaning and repair event
  • Yard sale for community outreach and to support the ministries

Section Five: Advice from Sharing Worship Space - Experts

As mentioned earlier, there is no magic bullet for sharing worship space and it requires significant time and effort. The pastors have been asked in the interviews to give some advice for people who are considering sharing space. In this section, I will share their insights. As the host and guest congregations have different perspectives and emotions regarding sharing worship space, I will address them in two sections.

Advice from host congregation to host congregation:

  • Be clear on the conditions and expectations
  • Count the cost before sharing your building with another congregation and then make decision
  • Be willing to adapt to change that will come
  • If money is your only motive, do not share worship space; it can become counterproductive
  • Perceive sharing worship space as a way to serve
  • Be patient and flexible
  • It is sometimes easier to share amongst three or more churches because it reduces the potential of an "us and them" mentality developing
  • While interviewing a pastor, who needs worship space discern whether you can relate inter-personally to each other.

Advice from guest congregation to guest congregation:

  • Be proactive with conflicts and show your servant attitude
  • Take good care of the children and the equipment
  • Make sure that the members of your congregation know what you have agreed on with the owner
  • Be responsible, respectful, responsive, and thankful
  • Pray for the host congregation as part of your ministry; this enables the members to value the space and helps them to take good care of it
  • Being supportive of each other
  • Seek the Lord on where you should be and who you should be with
  • Don't share worship space with a congregation who speaks the same language to prevent membership competition

Section Six: Conclusion: Sharing Worship Space – a Long-Term Solution?

Given all the reasons to share worship space such as difficult economic times, lack of human, physical, and financial resources, I wonder why more congregations do not consider sharing worship space as a long-term solution.

I have observed that churches desire their own buildings, even though they have good relationships to the host congregations. Sometimes it is the need for more space, more flexibility, or the dislike of service times in the afternoon. For only two churches we talked to, sharing worship space is a long-term option because one is committed to the specific neighborhood and the other values the shared worship arrangement, as it gives the possibility to spend its few resources on ministry and not a building.

Cultural and personal misunderstandings will occur, therefore a long-term commitment to sharing worship space is also a commitment to invest in relationships, reconcile conflicts, and not avoid difficult conversations.

It is time to think differently about sharing worship space and develop creative and innovative approaches that build the Kingdom of God, witness a loving body of Christ, serve the neighborhoods, enhance intercultural learning, and reflect the nature of the Kingdom of God as written in Revelation 7:9:

“there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”

Intercultural Ministries of EGC offers consulting and training to assist congregations in navigating through cultural challenges. Moreover, we intend to hold a workshop on the essentials of sharing worship space in late May 2012. If you are interested in receiving more information, contact bduemling [at] egc.org .



[1] In this article the term "majority culture" refers to the U.S. society in general and not to the majority or minority in a given community or congregation. "Majority-culture" is shaped by language, religious practice, values, and social structure of people of predominantly Euro-American decent.

[2] See Doug Hall, The Cat and the Toaster, Eugene, 2010, p. xiii-xv and Doug Hall: “What is the Quiet Revival & Why is it Important?”, in New England’s Book of Acts (2007) (see www.neba.egc.org). The growth of immigrant churches is also documented in the “New England’s Book of Acts” (see www.neba.egc.org).

[3] This is an observation Rev. Ralph Kee made in his work as the animator of the 'Greater Boston Church Planting Collaborative' (http://www.egc.org/GBCPC).

[4] However, that is not possible everywhere anymore. On December 5, 2011 the Supreme Court rejects worship at public school appeal for NYC consequently more than 60 churches in NYC need a different space to worship starting February 12, 2012 - http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/12/05/us-usa-religion-schools-idUSTRE7B41ML20111205 - accessed 01/10/2012.

[5] All the data is obtained from the Boston Church Directory www.egc.org/churches/ - accessed in June 2011.

[7] We have contacted the headquarters of the main denominations to ask about guidelines regarding shared worship space. However, no practical guidelines have been developed. Two denominations had some sort of guidelines. The Church of the Nazarene mentioned the process of developing multi-congregational churches under 100.1 in their Manual http://nazarene.org/files/docs/Manual2009-2013.pdf, p. 63 – accessed 01/23/2012. The Presbyterian Church USA has only guidelines regarding sharing space with another religion: www.pcusa.org/resource/sharing-building-space-group-another-religion/ - accessed 01/23/2012.

[8] Between July-December 2011 we conducted 15 formal interviews with six pastors whose congregations own the church building, eight pastors whose congregations worship in someone else's church building worship space and with a representative of one para-church organization, who has churches worshiping in their facilities. Moreover, I had many informal conversations about shared worship space.

[9] All Scripture Quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, published by Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI.

[10] See Douglas A. Hall: The Cat & the Toaster. Living Ministry in a Technological Age. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2010, p. 116ff.

[11] Douglas A. Hall: The Cat & the Toaster. Living Ministry in a Technological Age. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2010, p. 180-183.

[12] Douglas A. Hall: The Cat & the Toaster. Living Ministry in a Technological Age. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2010, p. 19ff.

[13]             In this article the term ‘majority-minority relations’ refers to the U.S. society and its structure in general and not to the majority or minority in a given community or congregation.

[14] This issue has been addressed in November 2010 through a workshop. The report Re-thinking the Way We Think About Church Buildings is accessible on http://egc.org/err61 - accessed 01/19/2012.

 

Resources:

  • Anderson, Lorraine: Under One Steeple:  Multiple Congregations Sharing More Than Just Space. House of Prisca and Aquila Series. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, (publication pending) Spring 2012.
  • Behnken, Ken. Together in Mission: Sharing Facilities With Another Culture Group. Irvine, CA: Center for United States Missions, 2008.
  • Lanier, Sarah A.. Foreign to Familiar. A Guide to Understanding Hot- and Cold-Climate Cultures. Hangerstown, MD: McDougal Publishing, 2000.
  • Rah, Soong-Chang. Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2010.
  • The article “Space Frontiers” features three churches that are pioneering new ways to use facilities for the gospel. It inspires to think a little more out of the box. www.christianitytoday.com/le/2009/fall/spacefrontiers.html - accessed 01/23/2012.