From its birth, our community of faith (The Well at Springfield) decided to make acquiring a permanent meeting space optional. We wanted to avoid the financial burden facing so many churches. As time has gone on though, we are discovering some unexpected gifts of sharing space with our neighbors that reach far beyond economics. Here are a few of them:
1. Meaningful connections. While we rent a “home base” that serves as our Sunday gathering space (right now it’s an art museum), we have occupied a ton of community spaces. Parks, laundromats, breweries, coffee shops, an event center, community gardens, an after-school school kids’ center, and a neighborhood elementary school have all welcomed us to share space. Inevitably, with shared space comes the opportunity for us to connect with our neighbors in meaningful ways. We have made friends, shared conversation and forged a rich web of community partnerships because of our need to collaborate around space.
2. A culture of flexibility. I still remember the Sunday that we shared the news that we were losing the Sunday gathering space we’d been renting for the past two years. We had no idea where we would go next. Fortunately, a church partner down the street welcomed us to gather there temporarily. It would mean adjusting our meeting time to Sunday evenings. It was not ideal for anyone, but do-able for most. We did it for almost a year. Nothing creates a culture of flexibility and openness to change more than consistently asking “where are we meeting next week?”. That culture of adaptability has helped us in so many ways to stay open to being led by the Spirit instead of falling into our fear-driven tendency to say “but we’ve always done it this way.”
3. Freedom. Not owning space certainly has its challenges. This past Easter, we showed up to our meeting space to find there had been some miscommunication. The room was set up for a wedding that would be happening the next day. Things like this happen when you share space. We found a way to work around the decorations (and even worked a few of them in!). The challenges are real, but the freedom to come and go and to use our time and money on meeting the needs of our neighbors has outweighed the inconveniences.
4. Creativity. When the neighborhood becomes your parish (instead of the church building), suddenly all kinds of possibilities open up. What if we set up prayer stations in the community garden? What if we held our Easter worship gathering in a vacant lot? Where can we host our next book discussion? We are constantly looking out at our community and people are constantly discovering us in the life of their community – hosting storytelling events, holding conversations about community issues and welcoming them as they welcome us.
5. Breaking down barriers. We live in a time when the barriers that keep people from darkening the doors of a church are many – fear of rejection, mistrust of institutions and not really getting the point of it all to name a few. Making our gatherings accessible to people where they are has opened the way for some of those barriers to be broken down and for people to discover the good news of God’s love in new ways. We recently celebrated our church’s 8th birthday at our neighborhood brewery. They have welcomed us many times to co-host a variety of events. When we thanked them for their hospitality, one of the owners wrote back, “We love hosting The Well and all the wonderful people, stories and events it has brought to our little brewery – thank you to you!” Instead of waiting for people to come to us, we get to be the love and light of Christ alongside them. We get to expose them to fresh expressions of church, while they teach us about their lives.
The church is called to be a tangible expression of the kingdom of God. In order for it to be tangible, it must be connected to our community. Instead of expecting people to come to “church”, what might happen if we started being church in the community together? What are some spaces in your neighborhood or city that could be places of connection, bridge-building and creative expression for the kingdom of God?
Rev. Susan Rogers is the pastor of The Well at Springfield. She grew up in Jacksonville and graduated from Terry Parker High School and the University of Florida. After working as an occupational therapist for 9 years, she felt God inviting her into vocational ministry. She graduated from the McAfee School of Theology in 2008 and served as Minister to Students, then Associate Pastor at Peachtree Baptist Church in Atlanta. Susan is passionate about creating authentic Christ-centered community, advocating for social justice & re-imagining Jesus-like , life giving ways of being church. She and her family returned to Jacksonville in 2010 to start this new community through a generous partnership with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida. Susan has been married to her husband, Kevin for 22 years and they have two teenage daughters.