(Community Design) The Church

Kent Dahlgren
7 min readAug 15, 2020

Once upon a time, the location of a certain congregation’s sanctuary was well-calibrated to the geography of its target community, which enabled its ministry to be of maximum effectiveness.

But after years of gentrification, the congregation’s community were priced out, migrating further and further east, eventually culminating in an untenable imbalance.

Here’s an illustration of how this might look:

Because the members of the church’s congregation lived further and further east, it became increasingly difficult for the church to support its ministry.

The church’s stewards were at a crossroads.

Do they sell the sanctuary, and relocate their ministry’s “center of gravity” further east so they can re-calibrate their ministry to the location of most of their congregation?

This was a bitter pill to swallow.

The stewards felt sure they’d find someone eager to convert the church into a swanky new home, or more likely: simply tear down the sanctuary and build a few new tightly-grouped homes.

From a financial standpoint, this option looked sound, and the strategy may help the church better calibrate its ministry to its community, but..

But what of the community they left behind?

After all, the residents of this community have been in a state of financial distress, and are besieged by the traumas of involuntary displacement.

It’s difficult to leave them behind.

In this article, I discuss some ideas about how the former sanctuary can transform into a community center, serving as an epicenter for resources, and as an outpost of the church’s ministry, we believe representing the best of all possible scenarios.

Further, I discuss a proposed framework on how the congregations stewards might secure a lasting collaboration with members of the existing, as well as the gentrifying community.

It may look like this:

Indeed, we believe this configuration may be optimal for the kind of public/private/faith-based collaborations that will be tantamount to community health and wealth in the next few years, with the family serving as the basic building block.

To begin, I will reference a project management process used by my company (214 Alpha) that’s well-suited for community development.

In my article Community development 101 (Project Management), I discuss how a community of neighbor advocates chose to stand their ground, selecting a “four corners” intersection as their epicenter for “stopping the bleed” that’s already damaged the health and wellness of their community.

In their plan, this “four corners” epicenter included a church, and as luck has it: its the same sanctuary that’s being evaluated by the church’s stewards:

In review, our process delivers a project plan that calibrates a one year vision to accountable, weekly execution, and it looks like this:

Left-side, top to bottom:

  • Vision (one year)
  • Strategy (three months)
  • Execution (weekly)
  • Metrics (quantifiable success criteria)

You’ll note that I’m using stickies and a sharpie. Don’t overthink the tools you use for this; the cheaper and more effective, the better.

Let’s take a closer look at what the church stewards may consider as a plan:

As noted, the church stewards don’t merely want to unload the sanctuary; they are looking for the right partner, because they aspire to remain as a resource to the community in the immediate area.

And as discussed in the referenced article, the community advocates actually want and need for the church stewards to remain involved.

So it’s important that the “right“ buyer is identified.

The defined vision (V) for the next 12 months is stated just that precisely, and the three month strategic (S) goal in support of that vision is to define what the ideal partner may look.

An example execution task is to interview potential buyers.

Finally, the metrics (M) for the execution (E) task are clear: do the church stewards find this potential buyer to be a good fit?

These execution (E) tasks are assigned to an individual, and their progress is evaluated on a regular basis (thrice weekly in a 15-minute “stand-up” meeting, and once a week during a more lengthy status meeting).

As described in the Community Development 101 article (Project Management), we can combine the V -> S -> E -> M stickies, and put then aside:

Let’s consider another vision that the church stewards may consider as they seek to enrich their community engagement:

It’s smart to consider use of the prior church sanctuary as a resource center for vocational and educational assistance, and this would certainly help the community.

What does that look like? Let’s consider some ideas:

The church has a kitchen, so what if the church can identify a partner that would run an educational program for the local community, using the facilities as a resource?

What if the partner is in a position to help remodel the kitchen, greatly enhancing the facility’s capacity to provide services?

This would certainly help the sanctuary maintain its prominence as a resource center, assisting the neighborhood advocates in their aspired goal of ensuring they can address issues of food insecurity.

What about community policing?

It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where the community may have a need for a nimble and effective collaboration between the neighborhood and law enforcement, and what entity is better positioned to orchestrate this delicate balance than an established seat of wisdom?

Let’s consider a couple of ideas.

Maybe the community discussed options they find to be acceptable, and ones they believe will be effective, so they settle upon a plan for a “block watch” that relies upon side-by-side partnership between formal law enforcement and those identified as vital to neighborhood harmony.

The 214 Alpha self governance app features arbitration as a framework for conflict resolution, and within this community, the seats of wisdom might serve as mediators or arbitrators, enabling the community to handle its own conflict resolution for most situations.

In some communities, these mediators or arbitrators are elderly members of the community who have earned their reputation has those able to navigate significant contacts and nuance.

A framework for restorative justice is also available to the community, which pairs perpetrators and victims of minor crimes so they can reconnect and reestablish their entangled interactions.

Or, maybe they consider some more ambitious plans for conflict de-escalation, such as this:

Again, who better to orchestrate this precise collaboration, as all parties come together to identify and drive effective and equitable solutions to complex problems?

Let’s consider a third and final idea: grassroots community financing.

In our experience, most people don’t need to borrow money necessary to buy a building or launch a company.

Most people need to borrow a couple hundred dollars so they can fix their car until payday, and what if the only collateral person has is the reputation?

Going back to our community development methodology, the defined vision (V) and strategy (S) might look like the following:

How might we define an execution (E) task and an accompanying metric (M) in support of this vision and strategy?

That’s one option. What if people needed to borrow money from one another?

With the sanctuary serving as a hub, the community might facilitate these types of neighbor collaborations.

In this example, a separate execution (E) task is identified that serves the same vision (V) and strategy (S).

The 214 Alpha self-governing app provides support for peer to peer micro-credit and crowd-source funding options, using technology that is transparent, accountable, and easy to audit, which minimizes the risk of fraud, waste, abuse, and corruption.

This would enable the neighborhood community to support one another, in alignment to the values defined by the communities governing committee, inclusive to members of the former sanctuary congregation.

Within our self-governing app, this would be represented as what some might consider “community terms and conditions.”

Inevitably, people stumble, and mistakes are made. It might seem logical but inhumane to simply eject members when they step off the path.

A self-governing community led from a place of wisdom would entertain and support pathways to forgiveness and redemption, through trust and accountability, similar to how programs manage solutions for those in recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol.

At 214 Alpha we believe that these complex, complementary solutions are not only possible, but likely present the most probable options for lasting, functional collaborations that are win-wins for public, private, and faith-based contributors.

We are a service provider, and assist in the launch and sustained operation of self-governing communities through professional services and a novel mobile app.

Contact us today to discuss how our Community Activation and Launch Methodology (C.A.L.M.) and our mobile app might benefit your community.

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Kent Dahlgren

Product management fix-it guy. World-famous people skills. Extremely small hands. (edit) marketing lady says I’m also supposed to say “CEO of software company”