In nearly 30 years of urban ministry, I have discovered—especially having twice been a church planter—that many urban people (especially those who grew up in the city) associate commitment to a neighborhood with physical property. We city dwellers have seen many organizations come and go. Sometimes there is cynicism over organizations and businesses that came into a neighborhood, talked a good game, and drummed up some excitement, then left. I’ve often heard the negative comments concerning churches moving out of the city.
In a recent book, Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison address the issue of churches moving out of neighborhoods:
Many churches have put down only shallow roots in their neighborhood, or no roots at all. We’ve all heard the question, ‘if our church suddenly moved to a new location fifteen miles away, would anyone in our neighborhood notice we were gone?’ But what if we asked ourselves this question: ‘If our church was magically lifted off the ground and moved a location fifteen miles away, would wenotice the difference?’ Western churches have become so disentangled from their own places that this question could be a cold, hard look in the mirror for many faith communities (p. 67).
Other experts in urban ministry make similar points, including the long-respected Harvie Conn and Manny Ortiz. In Urban Ministry: The Kingdom, the City, and the People of God, these authors observe that an obstacle to urban outreach is that “Many churches do not identify with a community. They perceive no concrete points of contact that they might use as bridges to ministry” (p 454). Of course a physical building is not the only concrete point of contact that is needed! We need to be connected to people through relationships.
The Sanctuary Covenant Church took a virtually abandoned lot and brought new life and energy to the Broadway corridor. We also renovated an abandoned office space adjacent to Merwin Liquor, which is at the corner of Lyndale and Broadway. Many who are concerned about North Minneapolis have pointed out that we are in the thick of the activity of North Minneapolis, as the Lyndale/Broadway intersection is busy with commuters and shoppers. Not all of the activity around the intersection is productive.
Our buildings are not simply spaces for our church staff to work on a daily basis, or even for us to worship on a regular basis. Our building allows a place for segments of the North Minneapolis community to gather. We offer a safe space for children, for parents, for partner ministries, and even for organizations that may not be Christian but provide a positive service to the neighborhood. We have a great God who wants people to know him personally and we at SCC have much to offer in serving our reconciling God. We are a congregation of people who continually strive to know God in worship and service and that is the spirit in which we consider the purchase of property. Our building is not a monument to anyone or anything, but is partly a statement to our neighbors that says, “we’re here; we’re part of this community just as you are.”
– Dr. Dennis Edwards