Today I had an interesting conversation with a woman at work. We were discussing the local town we both live in. It is a smaller town, just north of Syracuse. We were discussing the fact that we both grew up outside of the town, which is the kind of place where everyone knows everyone. Those who grew up here know everyone and those who didn’t grow up here are easily pointed out. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, it is what it is.
Within this town, and its resulting culture, has sprung up a recent church plant. Now before I go any further, if you don’t know, I am completely for church planting. I love the church, blemishes and all. In fact, I’m attempting to follow the Spirit’s leading in establishing a faith community. We need more Christian communities of faith, especially here in central New York where the only options seem to be the Roman Catholic Church or low-church evangelicalism. We need more middle of the theological road, missionally minded, kingdom oriented, liturgical leaning communities that exist for the sake of others. But that’s another story.
The interesting thing about today’s conversation was the apparent angst regarding the location of the town’s recent church plant. Just outside of our village is a small strip mall comprised of mainly mom and pop eateries, a dollar store, a gym, and empty spaces. Found in the corner of the strip mall, in the largest spot available, is this church plant. My co-worker asked me in a very annoyed tone if I had seen this church and her hopes regarding its eventual departure: “I hope they’re renting it”, to be exact.
I was caught somewhat off-guard by her comment, but it got me thinking. In a town like ours is it beneficial to the overall economy to take up a potential business space to be used as a church? Are there taxes that are being lost for the benefit of the town? A related question is, if you have free coffee available for the public at your church during the weekdays, is it taking away from the only local coffeeshop in town? In a town like ours that is struggling to make ends meet and more jobs are needed, perhaps especially in entrepreneurial ventures, is a church taking away a potential business a detriment to its mission?
Without even knowing the beliefs and actions of this church, which, by the way, I know the pastor and they’re doing a wealth of good, my co-worker has already written them off because of their location. I’m merely wondering out loud if we as church planters should have a theology of location that informs our decisions. Should we do more cultural exegesis in our plans, perhaps including the possible economic disturbances our locations will bring about?
Any thoughts out there?