Beat the “Building Blues”

by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

I hear these laments everywhere I go:

We are trapped by deferred maintenance.

The last building campaign fell short, so the debt is killing us.

We can raise money for the building but not for ministry.

We want to build but we’re not sure why.

We are raising money and building new buildings, but people are leaving.

The range of emotions around our facilities is hurting our soul and I don’t take this lightly. I love “going” to church, even while I fully embrace that the church is not the building.

The bigger questions are below the surface. The Building Blues are a true call to answer the question of purpose.

Why does my congregation exist?

What are our values?

Clarity of purpose and values gives us a platform for making hard decisions about our buildings. Our purpose and values call us to sell, to move, to downsize, to build or more. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to every building question, but there must be, at the heart of this lament, a passion for the Gospel or we aren’t really talking about God’s church. We are stalled in our own nostalgia. Admit it.

Votes to build need to include the voices of the people who will carry the mortgage and the mission forward. They can even include partners in the community who care about the purpose and values.

We can renovate for the people who are in the room right now, or we can build our vision for the future with a generous, caring commitment to the people in our neighborhood.

This is a leap of a faith.

If you find yourself being drawn into lament after lament, it is a good sign that it is time to push the purpose of the congregation out into the world around you.

Nothing gets rid of the blues more than hope.

2 replies
  1. Caren Carney
    Caren Carney says:

    Dear Peggy,

    Thanks for this post! I maintain a mental distinction about the word “church.” I now distinguish among my church congregation (members), my church community (anyone who touches or is touched by our actions including prayer), and my global church community (the actions of our members or the ELCA who touch others I cannot see.). Lenny Duncan helps this distinction in his book “Dear Church”–I see it as his epistle to the ELCA broadly speaking, but it reaches us locally.

    In his Baltimore book tour, he spoke with some pain about how Dylan Roof was raised in an ELCA church. So “church” must mean more than the building. But I think you’re right to note that when we become almost “consumed” with the buildings, grounds maintenance, parking lot, school, and related costs, it’s easy to lose the whole point of who we are. That also gets to the point of Rozella Haydee White’s challenge to “Love Big.”

    We can’t do that when we’re consumed by building debt and maintenance. I cringed when you mentioned “deferred maintenance.” The costs of that increase exponentially (literally) the longer they are delayed.

    Finally, I agree that our focus on our congregation’s values becomes our “North Star” to keep in focus what is really worth doing. Your recent efforts to emphasize the importance of strategic planning can do great things for a community to live out its values, see its future, and, in the process, renew its hope. Our church community has its first strategic planning meeting tonight in our post Dig Down era! I’ll share your ideas–thanks again, Peggy!

    Kind regards,

  2. Peggy Hahn
    Peggy Hahn says:

    Caren thank your for quoting two of my favorite authors! I really appreciate the distinction between congregation and church. I can’t wait to hear how the work goes tonight as you all use LEAD’s Dig Down process to consider the decision making systems that are driving ministry. A clear purpose & values are first. Then we can courageously work on alignment across the congregation.


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