Helping Churches Die Right

Collapsed church, Pattie Steib /

Collapsed church, Pattie Steib /

I was having lunch with another couple in ministry that shared a disturbing story with us. The problem isn’t so much in the uniqueness of the story they told, but rather in how incredibly common it is.

The couple had connections to a congregations several hours away that is located in the heart of a thriving urban center. The aging congregation was down to only 40 regular attendees and had released all of their paid staff, opting instead for volunteers to lead worship for them when they could secure them.

Meanwhile, they gathered in a building, valued at roughly $9 million, which they could not afford to maintain.

This church, like so many others, seeks answers to questions about how to survive in an increasingly secular, disparate, and religiously wary culture. Their hope, like plenty of other churches, is that something or someone will come along to save them, keep the institution going and propel them into the future for another century.

Oh, as long as they don’t have to change.

Five Things You Should Know About Religious Violence in Nigeria

Smoke billows from Christ the King Catholic Cathedral in Zaria, Nigeria.

Smoke billows from Christ the King Catholic Cathedral in Zaria, Nigeria after a suicide bomb attack on June 17. By AFP/Getty.

Ongoing violence in Nigeria has exacerbated tensions between the country's Muslims and Christians. Nigeria has equal numbers of Christians and Muslims, and 92 percent of the country's population says they pray every day, according to a 2010 poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Hundreds of Christians and Muslims have died this year alone, including scores killed last weekend (July 7-8) when Muslim militants attacked Christian villages in the nation’s central plateau, where the mostly Muslim north and the mostly Christian south meet.

Read five things you should know about the violence in Nigeria inside the blog...

Cutting Assistance Programs Undermines the Church's Work

SNAP stats illustration. Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

SNAP stats illustration. Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

A common rationalization those in religious circles make for cutting social programs that help the poor is that church should be the one helping “the least of these,” not the government. But if we know that’s not possible given the church’s means, that millions will get left behind because our efforts fall far too short, is that still a logical line of defense? Jesus told us to care for the poor, sick, and vulnerable—he didn’t prescribe how.

Sometimes Jesus healed people one-on-one. Sometimes he addressed the needs of a multitude by providing enough food to feed them all. Sometimes he sent others in his stead to provide healing. 

If we ignore the needy in our midst by getting rid of one huge way to address that need, we are not following Jesus’ example.

Opening Doors and Liberating Churches From ‘Sacred Spaces’

Paris chapel, Justin Black /

Paris chapel, Justin Black /

Although church conventions tend to get attention for decisions on sexuality and gender, I am more intrigued by a movement among Episcopalians to sell their national headquarters building in New York City.

Whether the shrinking national staff would leave "815" (815 Second Avenue) or remain as tenants isn't clear. Nor is it clear where they would go next if they left. Suggestions range from a large cathedral property (New York or Washington, D.C.) to a middle-of-the-country site. (Presbyterians chose Louisville, Ky., when they made a similar decision in the late 1980s.)

As a cost-cutting measure, a building sale strikes me as unpromising. Nor am I persuaded by anti-Gotham arguments. Having a church center here isn't a "Babylonian captivity" or the last relic of an "imperial dream," as critics put it.

A Catholic Nun, A Teenage Girl, and Climate Justice

Climate change illustration, red-feniks /

Climate change illustration, red-feniks /

Sister Kathy Long turned toward my 13-year-old daughter and asked one question: “What will you tell your friends about spending this month in Mexico?”

In a public park in Cuernavaca, Mexico, we sat on a concrete bench next to six women who chatted and stitched embroidery patterns with brightly colored thread.

I glanced toward the sewing group, realizing that Maya would have rolled her eyes if I had asked her that same question. An intrusive query from a mother seemed compelling coming from a Catholic nun who worked in Mexico, promoted justice amid poverty, and even spent three months in jail for protesting the military training of Latin American leaders in the U.S.

“I will tell them that rich people and poor people are all people in the end,” Maya responded. “If you have three cars and two houses, you are a person just like someone whose house is made of cardboard or metal.”

Christian Churches Together Chooses New Executive Director

Leaders of Christian Churches Together in the USA, a 10-year-old network aimed at promoting interchurch collaboration, have chosen a Presbyterian ecumenical associate as their new executive director.

The Rev. Carlos Malave, who worked for the Presbyterian Church (USA) for 11 years, said CCT is trying to adapt in the challenging realm of ecumenical relations.

The National Council of Churches and Churches Uniting in Christ, two decades-old groups focused on church unity, have been dealing with financial and leadership woes. While scholars, such as those who gathered in April in Assisi, Italy, have grappled with what they consider an "ecumenical winter," Malave says CCT is successfully using new methods as the church adjusts to post-modernism.

New York City Churches Will No Longer Be Evicted from Public Buildings (For Now)

Sarah Pulliam Bailey at Christianity Today reports:

More than 60 churches that faced possible eviction Sunday from New York City public schools should have more room to breathe. The churches will be allowed to continue to meet in public schools, thanks to a permanent injunction issued today from a district court judge.

An ongoing conflict between religious organizations and the Department of Education kept churches in limbo over the right to keep using public school buildings for worship services. New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn blocked a vote to allow houses of worship access to school property. The resolution saw support from 31 of 51 council members, but the state legislative session ended this week, the Queens Chronicle reported.

Read the full report HERE.

Being Pushy Is OK When You’re Pushing Back

people pushing image via Accent  / Shutterstock

people pushing image via Accent / Shutterstock

Imagine the moral authority that church leaders could exercise if they turned their eyes outward to a needy world, rather than endlessly surveying the insider crowd for what they want and are willing to pay for.

Imagine if we allowed worship to change in order to make it more accessible to the world. Imagine devoting our resources to reaching younger adults and families seeking fresh purpose in a stale world. Imagine buildings being re-purposed for community needs. 

Imagine a church that was giving itself away to the "least of these." And when givers push back, imagine lay and clergy leaders saying boldly, "This church isn't for sale. We have a larger purpose than keeping you happy and comfortable. This church isn't about us. It is about God and the next people whom God is trying to reach."

Religious Groups Vie for Internet Space in Domain Name Grab

Address bar photo, Diego Cervo /

Address bar photo, Diego Cervo /

Religious groups have long vied for prime parcels of land, planting churches on town squares and monasteries amid isolated mountains. But now they’re targeting real estate in a less tangible sphere: cyberspace.

For the first time in its history, the international nonprofit that doles out generic Internet domain names such as “.com” and “.edu” will allow more specific web address extensions like “.church.”

Hundreds of companies, Internet entrepreneurs and cities submitted nearly 2,000 applications, seeking the right to own everything from .app to .zulu, the Britain-based International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers announced last on June 14.