I grew up in a congregation established in 1832. As a child, I loved looking through the old book on that congregation’s history, slowly turning the pages and seeing the pictures of renovation after renovation of that 1830s sanctuary. Decades from today, the history of LydiaPlace Collaborative Communities likely will not be told in a printed book. And when it comes to their story of place, or as the Rev. Scott Simmons puts it below, their story of consumption to collaboration, a very different narrative will surface.
The Spirit has been working through my childhood congregation for nearly two centuries. It’s working at LydiaPlace today in ways both similar and different, ancient and modern. Our Funding the Next Church series continues with the following exploration of what collaborative community means for the church today.
Adam J. Copeland, Director
Center for Stewardship Leaders
From Consumption to Collaboration
Conventional church start practice has often centered on resourcing a credentialed mission developer (frequently ordained or commissioned) to plant a new congregation. Developers receive financial backing and operational support through denominational bodies, established congregations, foundations, or organizations. This model typically provides adequate resources for the new mission until it can support itself through the gifts (time, talent, and treasure) of those who participate in the life of the new faith community.
There’s no doubt the model works. However, it can also lead to a self-consuming (or consumptive) system. The bigger a congregation grows, the more preoccupied it can be with self-sustenance, focusing its stewardship efforts and energies inward and away from its call to participate in the work of the Holy Spirit among neighbors and community.
The 2007-2008 financial crisis was a particular shock to our collective consumptive systems. From what I saw, average giving and membership often dropped as people coped with financial losses. Congregations struggled to pay for facilities, staff, and programs expanded prior to the crisis.
However, a number of promising cultural patterns have emerged out of the crisis, including: a rise in social enterprise–using commercial strategies and social collaboration for the sake of neighbor and community–and the emergence of access economy–the practice of collaboratively trading goods and services on the basis of availability and need.
LydiaPlace Collaborative Communities is a new ELCA mission start in Saint Paul, Minnesota dedicated to exploring how collaboration through social enterprise and access economics can provide a basis for resourcing new Christian community.
In its context (a primarily warehouse/industrial district being transformed into a multi-cultural creative enterprise zone), Lydia has intentionally focused on building collaborative relationships with like-minded organizations and community leaders. Some are distinctly secular; others even skeptical of the church. Yet we have united around shared social concerns (social enterprise) by sharing excess capacities (access economy). What’s more, some of these collaborations have reduced the strain on Lydia’s limited financial capacity by providing low-cost or free resources to the ministry.
A few examples include:
- A local brewpub provides space for a Lydia sponsored coworking community, at no charge, during non-serving hours. The community offers professional (and spiritual) support to self-employed, entrepreneurial, and/or “differently officed” people at a minimal cost. Lydia manages and promotes coworking sessions and provides high speed internet and other resources. In return, the brewpub gets exposure to a new customer base.
- Lydia sponsors Hymntap, a monthly beer and hymn event at another pub. Hymntap brings new patrons to the pub, and Lydia provides fellowship for hymn fans while proclaiming the Good News through song to people who may never otherwise interact with the church.
- Wednesdays at noon, Lydia leads a public ecumenical prayer service in a local park. The relationships built there are opening avenues for collaboration with other local churches, businesses, organizations and ventures.
- Lydia is preparing to begin public worship at a new art gallery space. There’s no charge to use the space. Lydia brings new people into the gallery as well as providing chairs and tables for the gallery’s use.
These are but a few examples; more opportunities emerge weekly. In order to respond faithfully, Lydians actively engage in missional discernment and strategic practices (see Dwight Zscheile’s book, The Agile Church) in order to be able to emphatically and confidently say “yes” to new opportunities as they arise.
Although coworking income and monthly gifts from supporters more than offset operational costs, the margin is slim. Lydia remains open to new collaborations and opportunities, and always to the work of the Spirit in its midst.
Check out the rest of the Funding the Next Church series:
Humbly Walking for Seven Years, And… by Jodi Houge
Flipping the Funding Model by Sara Hayden
Partnering with New Congregations by Justin Grimm
The Great Login in the Sky by Andy Greenhow
Rev. Scott Simmons, pastor/mission developer, LydiaPlace Collaborative Communities.
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