When I arrived at Bible Baptist Church a little over two years ago, we had a five acre piece of property, a spacious auditorium, lots of classrooms, and zero debt; but the roof was falling in, much of the property was in disrepair, and every classroom was filled with superfluous material, which made it impossible to use them for ministry.
I have always enjoyed organizing things; I have always hated church junk rooms; and I had always believed that God would call me to a church in this specific kind of condition to see vitality restored, but the magnitude of the disrepair and disorganization was daunting to me.
As I took note of the limited financial resources, I realized that resolving this situation was going to require a great strategy of faith.
We are now a little over two years in, and we have finally painted the last classroom in the educational wing just in time to expand our Wednesday night children’s program which has run out of space.
Here are the steps that I followed in those early days to develop a strategy and plan to remodel, repaint, and reorganize every room on our property without splitting the church, going bankrupt, or losing my mind.
The 1 Corinthians 13 formula for ministry is anything minus love equals nothing:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.—1 Corinthians 13:1–3
The greatest advice I have ever been given about pastoring is to love people, and I believe that should serve as the foundation for even our building improvement plans and strategies. People must sense that the basis of building is a love for God and a love for people, but they will be most motivated and supportive when they sense that, in the midst of it, you actually love them personally.
I realize that there are varying degrees of philosophy about how to treat the established leadership of a congregation that has been in decline for a long period of time. I cannot speak to every situation, but I sensed early-on that we were specifically blessed in that the remaining deacons and workers in our church were faithful people who loved the Lord and loved their church, but really did not know where to start with correcting this particular problem. I believed that it was my biblical responsibility and duty to love and shepherd these people rather than to come in and fight them to make the most effective changes at all costs.
Sometimes, new pastors have the idea of just going in and doing whatever needs to be done as they see it—painting the walls, trashing the junk, ripping up carpet, etc., but I realized that these things which were junk or unimportant to me were stored in these rooms for some reason that I did not understand and that relationships would need to be built in order for me to effectively do anything with all of this stuff.
With new eyes, I could see what needed to be done, but I did not have the longevity of experience to understand the giving that someone did back in a special offering where, in a sacred act of worship, they gave sacrificially, by faith toward the purchase of this now, dated, grotesque piece of furniture, or the hours they spent giving of their volunteer time and service to paint the walls what is now an outdated color, or the fact that someone they loved dearly created this particular artifact which has no value to me.
With love as my first motivation, I wanted to find out why all this garbage was piled up and create a strategy for removing this mountain of rubbish. One-by-one, I met with anyone who I deemed to be a stake-holder of any kind in our ministry, and I had them personally give me a tour of the facilities. I asked each of them questions about the obstacles, disrepairs, and rooms.
What I found as we went through the rooms was that they were thinking many of the same things that I was thinking about the messes and the necessary repairs. They gave me much valuable information about the history of the church, a history of how the rooms were used, and a few of them even articulated a vision for how the rooms should be used in the future.
Following the tours, I compiled the information that I had received, and because of my limited resources, I just drew a map of the buildings on a giant, wall-sized post-it pad. With this, I made the first draft of my proposed plan for each of the rooms.
I also compiled a task list of all the necessary repairs in each room and organized each list into the order that each task would need to be competed.
Finally, I organized each room of the building into a priority list based upon the importance of using each space.
Now, it was time to cast the vision. First, I started with the most influential people in the church. As they had walked me through the facility before, I now walked with them through the facility and made suggestions to them about how the room should be used, and the tasks that would need to be completed in order to make this happen. This allowed for me to get feedback from them. At this stage, I was not worried if there seemed to be some resistance in one area or another because, in this setting, this gave me the opportunity to hear their concerns and to think through ways to address their concerns to either alleviate and eliminate those concerns or to use those concerns as a point for improving the overall project.
At the next leadership meeting, I unveiled the next draft of the large map that I had drawn and we were able to discuss the strategy now in a group setting. Actually, at this point, as I recall, there was unanimous approval because individual concerns were already addressed by the time we got to the meeting, and because each person in the meeting already had time to process the necessary changes and their implications privately.
Finally, we unveiled the plan to the congregation and established a schedule of work days to get the work accomplished.
The fact that we received unanimous approval of the plan in the leadership meeting and that the presentation of the plan was readily received by the general church membership in such a positive way gave me the impression that our congregation was eager to follow the strategy right away. I was wrong. It turns out that churches which get into a state of disrepair do not get that way because they have been assessing, strategizing, and implementing their plans.
I still recall that first work day. We all arrived on the property. My wife, one other lady, and I went right to the classroom which had been selected as the first one to complete, and everyone else went and did a flurry of other random projects around the property until, at a certain point, they all gathered in that same classroom where they began to discuss all the things that needed to be done before we could even begin to paint the room. I realized that they were having a committee meeting—all the while, the other three of us were actually painting. I started to realize from their conversation that they were incredibly focused on all the details necessary to make the rooms as excellent as possible, so I started using this word to keep them motivated—“usability.” We just wanted to make the rooms usable. This shifted their paradigm and gave us forward movement.
Once that room was painted, they actually all came back and expressed their approval, and that created a momentum for completing the remaining rooms, and we continued the process of making rooms usable all across the property—systematically moving and removing furniture, painting and reorganizing rooms as they needed to be used, and we have now been implementing a plan for strategically raising the level of excellence across the property as well.