Capital Campaigns and Parking Lots

Spend enough time in a church larger than 150 regular worshippers (perhaps 100 for those who dream big) you will most likely hear the words “capital campaign.” These words are used by the pastor and church board to usher in a time of development for the church, to express the need for funds above and beyond those given for tithes in order to carry out the work.

I have heard capital campaigns being used for a multitude of items. Adding a new wing for Sunday School classes. Building a gymnasium. Expanding the foyer. Redoing the sanctuary. Creating more parking space. For each of these reasons the pastor will call on the congregation to dig a little deeper, to stretch their budget in order to achieve the building goal, to help create a lasting legacy.

Unfortunately the recent legacy of churches, as a physical entity,  is not found in the architecture of the church steeple outside, or the beauty of the sanctuary within. It is seen in the parking lot, a space that is filled for one day for one hour, and then sits as dead space for the other 167 hours in the week.

Many (though certainly not all) projects requiring a capital campaign can be justified practically and theologically. But does that mean they should happen? What if, instead of expanding church property, the church looked outside itself to the neighborhood (and world) beyond.

What if a capital campaign decided that instead of constructing a cafe to be more accommodating to newcomers, or expanding the foyer to foster fellowship, a church decided to pay for sidewalks in the blocks immediately surrounding the church, ensuring all those in the neighborhood can get to and from the church safely. And encourage those in the church to move into the neighborhood

What if a church decided to remove part of the parking lot and convert the land into a community garden, to be worked and rewarded together with those in the adjacent neighborhood.

What if part of the space used for parking lots was converted into low-income housing? Or even reasonably priced housing? Or a coffee shop? Or a community space?

These seem to me to be better uses for capital campaigns. Looking outside its property lines may also have the effect many churches desire of bringing new people into the doors of the church. Let us begin to walk away from our parking lot legacy and begin fostering spaces of sacredness and grace.