An Update on the Life of the Church
By Derek Penwell
As you may have noticed, a number of things have changed around Douglass Blvd. Christian Church over the past few years. I thought I'd take a moment to help you see the scope of these changes, and to offer you the thinking under which we're currently operating. It's all pretty exciting!
We no longer operate on the Functional Church Model of church organization—that is, an efficiency model of church organization popularized during the industrial revolution. The thinking in the early twentieth century was that businesses were enjoying some success by reorganizing themselves with a board of directors, an executive committee, and a host of standing committees. The Functional Church Model worked pretty well during the salad days of Mainline Protestantism's cultural ascendancy in the middle of the twentieth century. Unfortunately, as churches experienced membership decline beginning in the early 1970s, filling out the organizational flow chart became more and more difficult. [I've written extensively about this here and here and here.]
Moreover, with the increase in the number of families where both partners work, finding time to devote to committee work became increasingly difficult. At some point, young people seemed no longer to be stepping up to take over the often difficult work that had been performed by committees. Consequently, congregations began experience a great deal of stress, wondering how the work that had been getting done, would now be done.
At DBCC we've experienced these same stressors. Beginning in 2006, the congregation underwent the transition from the old Functional Church Model to a new form of organization, where the work is driven no longer by committees "thinking up stuff to do," and then having to figure out how to convince someone to do it, but by people who have a desire to see a particular ministry take shape. We still have a few ministries that cover things like worship, property, and personnel, but almost all of the ministry opportunities in the church have developed because someone saw a need, and asked the church for help in figuring out a way to meet it.
- Woodbourne House
- our move to become Open and Affirming
- Louisville Classical Academy
- the Douglass Loop Farmers Market
- Freedom House
- our public stance on marriage
- our ministry to refugees
- our work with the Fairness Campaign and Louisville Youth Group
- five mission trips to Mexico
- our support of the Louisville Gay Men's Chorus
- Diersen House
- our support of GLAD
- the expansion of our web and social media presence
- the clothing closet
None of these ministry initiatives started in a Leadership meeting, or because of the work of a committee. They all came about as a result of people who saw a need, brought it forward, and then took responsibility for helping to make it happen.
Now, our Leadership Coordination Ministry isn't primarily responsible for thinking up new things to do; it is responsible for seeing that the church meets its obligations and for seeing that potential ministries have the resources they need to thrive. Consequently, we don't have to worry about expending energy on continuing things for which there is no longer any enthusiasm. We invest in ministry where the energy is.
One of the most visible changes in the life of DBCC over the past few years revolves around the use of our campus. We've undergone a philosophical shift in our thinking about the resources over which God has made us responsible. For years there was anxiety about how the church was going to maintain a campus as large as the one we have with a congregation that, for a time, continued to see itself shrinking.
There were several serious discussions about how we should handle such an enormous responsibility, ranging at certain points all the way to whether or not we might be better off selling our building, and finding somewhere more manageable.
A philosophy began to evolve, however: What if we use our building and grounds as tools to be used for ministry, rather than as keepsakes to bequeath to future generations. Of course, we'd still want to care for them as good stewards. Only now, we could feel free to give them away to other groups when we could, and to charge rent for other space where we needed to.
As important as anything about this shift in philosophy is its implications as a theology of stewardship. We've tried to move from an "attractional model" of programming—in which we do programming with an eye to attracting people to membership at DBCC—to a purely ministry-driven model of programming—in which we offer space and programming as a gift, because it's the right thing to do. Of course, we hope people will like us and want to come find out about us, but that's not why we do what we do. We do what we do because we believe it's what God is calling us to do.
This theology of stewardship has allowed us to have our facilities used at almost total capacity every day. With Woodbourne House, we've helped offer low cost senior housing to eleven people. We give our grounds to the community on Saturdays for the Douglass Loop Farmers Market, allowing a neighborhood gathering place every week for people in our community. We donate space to Highland Community Ministries every weekday for a senior adult day center. On weeknights, we donate space to two AA groups, the Humane Society, HCM Water Color and Ball Room Dancing classes, the Louisville Gay Men's Chorus, and an LGBT Film Group.
We offset the costs of ministry by renting space to the HCM day care and to the Louisville Classical Academy. In addition, we rent 28 parking spaces every day to businesses in the Douglass Loop, and lease the front parking lot to the bank.
Our mixed-use formula has allowed us to stabilize our revenue over the foreseeable future, while at the same time giving us an opportunity to serve the community . . . just because.
The change in our organizational philosophy, the way we use our facilities, together with the increasing use of electronic communications is revolutionary enough that it has caused us to rethink the way much of the staff does its job. With the constant use of our facilities, we've had to employ a handy man, Neil, whose primary responsibility is to maintain and repair the building. Neil, in consultation with Gary King, is kept busy trying to look after a heavily used facility.
These changes have probably had more impact on Jennifer Vandiver than anyone else. Jennifer's responsibilities have increased significantly. She still answers the phone and produces the bulletin and newsletter. But now she spends a great deal of her time coordinating the use of the building between so many groups. Recognizing this shift in responsibility, Jennifer has been given a new job title by the Leadership Coordination Ministry: Operations Manager. Because we now must deal with the reality of space limitations, Jennifer is the point person when it comes to the many requests to use our facilities. Moreover, she acts as the "first responder" when a group has a difficulty or complaint.
Our Internet presence, which has grown considerably over the past five years, has become a major area of ministry to people all over the world. A majority of first time visitors when asked how they found us will say they saw our web site. Our sermon podcasts and blog articles are consumed by people all over the world. The realization that our ministry was broadening in this area caused the Leadership Coordination Ministry this year to fund a new position, charged with the responsibility of managing this new frontier for ministry. We're proud to welcome Geoff Wallace back to help us discover the exciting possibilities of ministry done on a global scale.
And of course, Joanna, Brenda, Clare, Ben, and I are also finding new ways to engage in ministry that allows us to equip followers of Jesus for the unfolding reign of God.
As we move forward together, please help us keep our eyes open for new possibilities for ministry at DBCC. The coming years look just as exciting!