The Funding the Next Church series has been a great joy to organize, and I’m very grateful to our six fine writers. Today, our final article in the series is no different. In fact, Rev. Andy Greenhow ends with the perfect exclamation point: a contemporary, powerful modern metaphor for funding congregations today.
Adam J. Copeland, Director
Center for Stewardship Leaders
The Great Login in the Sky
by Andy Greenhow
At the end of an arduous week, my spouse and I arrived home and decided our best course of action was a night of Netflix. We plopped down ready to showverdose on Gilmore Girls and found that due to a recent power outage, our Roku box (the device delivering all the streaming services–HBOGO, Netflix, Hulu Plus, WatchESPN–the same one that still permitted us to smugly declare at cocktail parties, “We don’t have cable”) had reset itself. Bad news: we had to enter our login information again.
Bona fide grownups are now asking, “What’s the big deal? Just login again.”
If you’re 30 years old or younger, you’re thinking gravely to yourself, “Hope he saved all those logins…”
All those logins because I am not the one who subscribes to all these services; other people do it on my behalf.
My parents underwrite Netflix. A work friend gave me Hulu Plus. It was a designated gift (“You haven’t seen Inside Amy Schumer?!”) that found its way into general operating. Then, the motherlode: my best friend shared his in-law’s login (so anonymous not even they knew about it) with the premium cable package.
Let’s just pause here and remember: this is a thing. People do it. I do and the young people in your congregation do as well. It’s a good ride but at its terminus, there is a vague sense of emptiness.
It’s the same emptiness I get when I go to a church where everything has been built long before I got there. Where my presence in the church amounts to consuming the content provided by someone else’s login.
Broad Street Ministry (BSM), the church I serve, is in a grand, neo-Gothic edifice that once housed a traditional Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation. It was the spiritual home of civic leaders and ladies in big hats. It sits on prime real estate in the heart of the city’s Avenue of the Arts. It is three blocks from City Hall, well-positioned to do meaningful civic ministry. It had everything it needed to be a faithful and sustainable church. And in 2001 it closed, in part because it failed to deploy the gifts of its present, rather than rely on the stories of its past.
When BSM opened in 2005, our approach was to front the cost of incredible music, strong pastoral leadership, and even an agape meal after worship. The thinking was if we provided everything the congregation needed, we would remove any obstacles to their continued discipleship, including financial stewardship. After years of strong incarnational participation but fairly anemic financial stewardship, we discovered we were doing exactly what our predecessors in the church did.
We were communicating that someone else would provide the necessaries; that financial stewardship was someone else’s business.
So we adjusted our programs and changing the way we talked about stewardship. We told LGBTQ people, recovering fundamentalists, and people in their 20s and 30s something they hadn’t really heard before: church was going to be what they made it with their investment.
I told them about my Netflix login scare to knowing murmurs and asked them to remember that church was different. There was to be no borrowing passwords. Christian stewardship at BSM has been reminding my congregants that people had a shot at church in this building once before and weren’t able to make it last. If this is going to work, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
Funding the next church with all its polity gymnastics, nontraditional governing structures, and building refits means the specific acknowledgment that too often our reliance on endowments, the donors of the past, and permission-giving in the present amounts to nothing more than sharing Netflix passwords. The BSM congregation is relishing the opportunity to create a community through their faithful stewardship–and they can’t be the only ones.
Check out the rest of the Funding the Next Church series:
Humbly Walking for Seven Years, And… by Jodi Houge
From Consumption to Collaboration by Scott Simmons
Flipping the Funding Model by Sara Hayden
Partnering with New Congregations by Justin Grimm
Rev. Andy Greenhow is the Minister of Stewardship, Congregational Partnership, and Belonging at Broad Street Ministry, a missional faith community in the Presbyterian Church (USA) tradition in Philadelphia. He serves as a pastor in BSM’s resident worshiping community and raises support from a wide variety of stakeholders, including through a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised almost $180,000 to open a restaurant in partnership with a local restaurant group. He resides with his spouse Karen Rohrer, a Presbyterian minister, in Philadelphia’s Kensington section.
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