Resurrecting Church

Beginning with a Great Question

Unimpeded by any financial constraint, what would it look like to do ministry in your community?

Have you ever wondered, “If we could unlock the value of our church’s campus, what would it look like?” Could we pay off debt? Could we pay off debt and get appropriate facilities? Could we pay off debt, get appropriate facilities, and have funds for new and different ministry?

In thinking about transforming your ministry by leveraging your campus, how could that one decision be the key factor in accomplishing your congregation’s ministry goals? What if you didn’t need all the land you have—or any of it? What would you do differently? How would you accomplish that ministry? How would you go about leading through such dramatic change?

In two churches that I have served, we did not need to seek out these questions as they came to us. For Christ UMC in Roswell, GA, our Next Faithful Steps prescription recommended this kind of evaluation. The congregation had overwhelming debt, a 30+ year lifetime of underfunded budgets and the exquisite gift of a sizable campus.

For Druid Hills UMC in Atlanta, GA, a developer approached the church about selling the campus. For years, church leadership had made passing comments about the burden of campus upkeep. When the opportunity came, they leaned in. Their research demonstrated that utilities, contracts with vendors, and staffing costs related to keeping the building operational required $.80 of every dollar given to the church. Deferred maintenance and major system replacement alone would cost more than $1M.

Know Your Community

Many of the answers to how ministry could be lived out without the expense of our buildings are answered by looking at who lives in our neighborhoods. Who are they? What are their dreams and desires? How can your congregation come alongside and help them lead a more fulfilling life? How do your facilities help with that work or hinder it?

If you are considering doing something different with your buildings, ask what is possible in your community. How is your church property zoned. What do the future land use maps suggest? To explore this, have a conversation with your city or county planner. You might even learn what, specifically, the area envisions how your neighborhood might change over the next 20 – 50 years.

Know your Extended Relationships

Your congregation might possess key relationships that can help you dream. A Druid Hills UMC neighbor helped the church understand that revisioning the entire campus with our new ministry goals would cost $8M. Another relationship helped us discern the implication of being located in a historic district and that the most we could realize from selling part of our campus was $1M.

Develop relationships with both the local civic association and immediate neighbors to the church. Approach them early and meet with them often. Explain your circumstances and dreams. Also, listen to your neighbors. What would they like to see happen to the campus? If you plan to sell part or leave your campus, how could a new neighbor align with the goals of the broader community? You might just be able to bring in a new owner that can help you accomplish your and the community’s goals.

Find the Right Broker

If you gain the proper permissions to market your property, finding the right broker is key. Brokers all have access to the same databases of what properties are available and for how much recent similar properties sold. Questions to consider:

  • Does your broker understand the needs, desires and decision timeline of the congregation?
  • Does your broker understand both the real estate environment of your community and the special circumstances involved in working with a church?
  • Does your broker have key relationships within the development community to bring offers to bear that accomplishes all your goals?
  • Is your broker someone you would want representing you and your church in the marketplace of commercial real estate?

Establish a Process for Deciding

Have regular Town Hall meetings to keep the congregation informed. Listen to congregational feedback and share insight into how the process unfolds.

Consider creating a Real Estate Working Group composed of both elected leadership and skilled, passionate church members not currently serving in formal leadership roles. A true gift at Christ UMC was our Real Estate Working Group developing a financial model for various scenarios. The financial model helped the group quickly know whether or not an offer was sufficient to accomplish our missional goals. They also worked with an architect from a project planning perspective to help the church keep the mission—not buildings—at the heart of the project.

Where Do You Want to Go Next?

Churches might be amazed to find the value of a partial land sale funds can fund and empower your vision. Churches could also discover that the value of the land does not meet the cost of renovating or replacing the campus, even when considering a smaller facility. The dream of doing ministry differently does not have to die. There are many faithful steps forward to take, depending on your congregation’s ministry goals. New paradigms of ministry can look different:

  • church mergers—traditional, vital merger and adoption models;
  • space-sharing arrangements—with another congregation, non-profit or business;
  • federated congregations, cooperative parishes, becoming a circuit.

For the Druid Hills congregation, we were initially dreaming of moving to a more useful space, possibly near Atlanta’s Beltline. In the midst of that process, we were invited into a conversation about a vital merger. A neighboring congregation was struggling and on an accelerating path to closure. The two churches chose to combine their financial, volunteer, and staff resources to create a truly new and different congregation. They changed their name and brand, lay fallow for a season, and received a church planter as their new pastor.

For Christ UMC, when we received word that the real estate offers did not provide enough resources to meet our ministry goals as a stand-alone congregation, we pivoted. At the beginning of this process, we projected we had 6 months of financial reserves. Good stewardship, faithful giving and the vision of a hopeful path forward extended this horizon to a year. As we were approaching the end of our financial reserves and with potential offers in hand, conversations about partnering in ministry with a neighboring congregation grew into a conversation about merging.

Dream of A New Church?

At Christ and Northbrook UMC’s, a new, shared vision that captured everyone’s imagination wasn’t simply a larger congregation, better programs or the reality that, upon concluding real estate transactions, the combined church would be debt free. The compelling, God-inspired vision that captivated people’s hearts was of these churches combining and the vast majority of the net proceeds from the land sale being used to bless our community.

For the Druid Hills congregation, the vision was not so much to be released from the burden of a building that no longer served the congregations needs but to create a community of faith that helped folks asks deep questions of meaning in a way that helped folks in the community consider—or reconsider—how following Jesus was part of the response to those questions.

If anything is following the model of life and death so that new life may arise, I pray these are two of those examples.

In closing

I’m sometimes asked, “How does it feel to have closed two churches?” My most frequent reply is, “I don’t know— they didn’t close.” These two churches have birthed themselves into a new way of doing ministry. The congregations and their leadership did not give up on their mission. They embraced their community and saw the challenge before them. Folks gave of themselves in order to live into a bold and different way of being church.

There is no great secret to leading this work. It demands diligence and patience that is open to the prompting of the Spirit. Leading through these processes requires the courage to ask the hard question about what best serves the broader community in the name of Jesus, the grace to sit with many people—multiple times—as they acknowledge an old dream dying, the vision to help them to see the light as a new vision is born, and the holy patience to wait with the confidence that God wants to do, and is doing, a new thing.

If you would like to dream further about the Great Question in the life of your congregation, I’m always open for a cup of coffee. I’d love to listen and dream differently with you on a limited basis. You can reach me at

The Camino Provides so Let’s Provide for the Camino

“The Camino Provides” , so the saying goes from those who have walked the Camino de Santiago. For those of us who have walked along the road to the “Field of Stars” we know the delightful implications of the aphorism. Much like The Rolling Stones song, along the Way of St. James you might not get everything you want, but you will get what you need.

For many pilgrims this can take a very tangible shape:

  • You can’t find an ATM . You are out of money & its lunchtime. A fellow pilgrim picks up the check for your lunch. Even more serendipitous, your lunch in comp’d by the staff.
  • You stop for a break—and a cafe con leche. Checking your feet, you realize you’re developing a hotspot and you discover you are out of blister pads. A pilgrim at the next table shares their’s.
  • You try checking into the last albergue in town, which is full—just like all the others. Instead of you having to walk another 12km, the hospitalero calls his brother, who lives in town. The brother lets you stay in his guest room. For free. With dinner & breakfast. Beyond that, you have a fantastic time.

The Camino provides each and every day for pilgrims, regardless of their national origin, age, or socio-economic status.

Right now, the Camino should provide for everyone involved and not solely the pilgrim. I wrote recently about some folks along the Caminos de Santiago that operate on a non-profit or donation basis. You can find that post here.

As Spain continues to slowly come out of her COVID-19 lockdown, the Camino is waking up, again. For many this is welcome news. For numerous albergues, they will need assistance to be ready to welcome pilgrims once the Camino opens in July. We can provide in a tangible way for those who provide for so many. Here’s just two stories and how you can help:

  • Albergue de Izarra, Camino del Norte: run by Santi Sesenya Rodriguez (of Tosantos and Brother Jose Luis fame), running this albergue is a dream come true for him. With new COVID-related regulations, Santi is having to do some more renovations to meet sanitary regulations. If you would like to help you can give through the PayPal of Peaceable Projects, a US-based 501(c)3. and designate your gift to Albergue de Izarra.
  • Albergue Parochial Tosantos: Speaking of Tosantos, the hospitalero at Albergue Paroquial Tosantos has not been well, in addition to spending all their reserves replacing to the floors over the winter. I wrote of this Albergue in my last post, too. If you would like support this work, you can give directly to the work of Father Jose Antonio, priest of the local parish through the Albergue Parroquial Tosantos account. Their IBAN number is ES60 2085 4911 3103 3054 0430 (use Xoom, a PayPal company, or Currencies Direct). Also you can give through Peaceable Projects’s PayPal, too.

Helping Out Along the Way

This pandemic has impacted life in so many ways for countless individuals. For those who identify as pilgrims—regardless of whether or not one has walked a single step across Spain—the images of an empty Praza do Obradoiro and stories of a Camino without pilgrims have made our safe-at-home strategies feel all the more confining. For many, 2020 was to be the year:

  • A pilgrim’s feet were finally going to fall upon the path that has led so many to Compostela.
  • A return to a place where clarity of purpose and deep meaning were discovered.
  • A pilgrimage was to be made—in gratitude for some blessing of life, in memory of dear loved one, or in search of something that is profound yet not quite utterable.
  • A pilgrim was making their way to Spain, not to walk, but to provide hospitality to a new wave of seekers making their way to City of St. James.

Now those identifying with one of these groups are beginning to mourn that much of the evidence points to a 2020 pilgrimage season that is either severely truncated or altogether cancelled. Questions abound—will employers allow you to take that long an amount of time off, again? Will family juggle calendars and expectations? Will the airlines, trains, or buses give you back all your hard-earned and patiently saved dollars?

And beyond that, there’s questions to which we do not yet know the answers:

  • When will the Camino reopen?
  • How will the Camino need to change—both in the short-term and the long-term to accomodate for our new reality?
  • How will the infrastructure of the Camino survive while at rest—especially those important places that depend on and operate with the seasonal donations of pilgrims?

It is on this last piece that I wish to focus. The Camino has given so much to so many, especially in the modern renewed interest in the Way of St. James. It is important in this season to remind each other that, yes, the Camino will be there; ever-ready to receive those seeking to find their way under the Field of Stars.

Right now, though, the Camino needs us to give as we have received. While there is no one place to give and there are many worthy Camino-related organizations and businesses, I have been moved to lift up those organizations that depend solely upon the donations received from each day’s wave of pilgrims making their way through the city, town, or village in which they find themselves. I would hope that if this effort focused on philanthropy, a difference could be made with those who have no other sources of revenue.

The below is not an exhaustive list—and intentionally so. These are just four that operate off of the donations made by pilgrims:

Beyond these three, here’s four other Albergues or Camino related operations that provide so much to many and could use your help:

If you would like a further list, Ivar Rekve’s The Camino de Santiago Forum has a list which can be found here:[]. Sybille at her Egeria House page is keeping in a list, too [].

Many thanks to those who have helped compile this list. I am grateful.


4. Spiritual Practices and Social Distancing

In this episode, I share an segment where I was interviewed about Spiritual Practices for adults in times of social distancing.

Resources mentioned in the podcast include:
1. Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer from the United Methodist Church
2. Always We Begin Again
3. The Soul in Paraphrase

Note— I do not have any kind of referral agreements with anyone. If possible, please support your local bookstore.

For more about Wellroot Family Services and their ministry with children and families, please visit

On Returning to the Parish

I’m quickly approaching ninety days since returning to ministry which finds me day to day in the local church. And for that all I can say is I’m grateful. I thought I’d would be good for posterity to share some reflections on this return.

I’m Preaching Without Notes

This has been one of the biggest changes since the last time I was preaching to the same people week in and week out. Folk that know me half-decently know that I’m a wordsmith and that I love crafting just the right turn of phrase. There’s nothing wrong with this. It just turned out that in my first 15 years of preaching, I either fretted about that phrase to the point of doing nothing but reading my manuscript or I would work so hard at memorizing my manuscript that the first hiccup would derail to that there was no chance of return. There’s 2 particular Sunday’s I’d prefer to forget and hope, one day I will.

A three different things clicked for me during me three year journey away from the local church:

  1. I had to learn to be an excellent communicator away from the pulpit… or at least at a time that’s not the sermon. I don’t know what the hang up was about sermons but it was there and it was real. To really communicate with folks I needed to learn to look them in the eye, know when I’m connecting and knowing how and when to change–even mid-stride–so that folks could get what I was trying to convey. Simple, right?
  2. When I did preach during my time in extension ministry, I had a particular outcome in mind–I wanted my listeners to engage in ministry with the nonprofit I represented. If we’re not preaching with an end in mind, then we need to reconsider the whole endeavor. As a friend says, it’s nice to be interesting but it’s transformational to be helpful.
  3. Carey Nieuwhof says that we don’t need to memorize our sermon, we need to understand it. For me that means understanding starting and ending points, transitions, and desired outcomes. Now, I’m not wedded to saying the exact same words on the manuscript on my desk at home and I don’t fret if an illustration doesn’t fall into flow of the sermon.

Where to Spend Energy

One of the great lessons I learned from our CEO while at my appointment to a nonprofit was that I could not control when (or whether) folks would trust me. All I could control was whether or not my actions are trustworthy. A large part of this in my first 90 days is how I spend my time and energy. And I have been spending a large part of my time investing in leaders–both those who are on staff and those in elected office. I’m listening to a lot stories, asking lots of questions and telling my own story, as well. I cannot tell you how important this has been.

Confidence in the Midst of Ambiguity

This is the other lesson I’ve learn and I really cannot tell you how important this is. First, let me be clear about what this is not–I’m not talking about arrogance, neither am I talking about deceiving folks. Confidence that has nothing backing it up, nor one that lacks any sense of a kingdom-minded trajectory soon rings hollow. And to “fake it until you make it” when it comes to vision is vulgar and disingenuous.

Confidence comes from a few different places:

  1. Rootedness in the calling upon your life and vocation.
  2. Complete ability to grasp current context without letting it consume or paralyze you.
  3. A holy confidence in a vision of God’s reign and a steadfast commitment to articulating that vision in your current context.
  4. A sense of a trajectory towards that vision with the wisdom and humility to course-correct to keep the vision of God’s reign before the congregation.

I’m sure none of this is new but I’m grateful for the lessons learned in extension ministry and to share those lessons learned.

There’s a whole other blog to share about finally learning good business and administrative practices. That will come later.

Walking the Camino: Albergues, Albergequette, and a Few Recommendations

Albergues—you gotta love ‘em.

Seriously, you do. Anyone who has done a lot of backpacking through Europe will probably think of—and mistakenly call them—hostels. All the accoutrements of a hostel are there—dorms filled with bunk beds, shared communal bathrooms, lockers, opportunities to wash your clothes in a tub, and hard-limit lights out.

There are differences, though. Namely, these are:

  • Early to bed, early to rise. Even though locals love to dine late, party into the night (and carry on until morning), Albergues have relatively early lock-out and lights out times—usually 9:30-10pm. Miss lockout because of one more glass of vino tincto? Good luck. Pray your host is gracious. Also, you’ll probably need to be out of the albergue by 8:30a, at the latest. I know most hostels have lights out and kicking-out time but most lights out are late and loose. Kick out is later than albergues.
  • License and Registration, ma’am. When you check in you not only have to provide your passport—verifying your identity and acts as not only a security measure but also a tracker in the rare chance you don’t check-in, call, or arrive when and where you are supposed to. You also have to provide your credencial or Camino Passport. This book of stamps acquired along The Way is proof that you are a pilgrim, giving you the privilege to stay at the albergue.
  • We’re Here All Week One Night Only. Most Albergues will let you spend one night and then you need to be making your way to Santiago. There’s always exceptions—especially if you are injured or sick. The rule, though, is get your rest and and get packing. Literally.

Beyond these three, albergues and hostels are pretty similar. Never been in a hotel before? Keep reading….

  • Dorm and Bunks—some are in rooms of 4 beds, some 12-16, some up to 100. Of course there’s also the occasional double room. There’s the occasional albergue that uses mats for regular or overflow use. Many will provide a pillow, blanket and disposable sheets. Other will before some, occasionally none. This is why most people bring a sleeping back, sleep sheet, or both. Some will bring a travel pillow while most seem to get by balling up their jacket and turning it into a pillow.
  • Squeaky Clean. Bathrooms in albergues make some people nervous. Most of the alburgues I stayed in had men’s and women’s bathrooms with multiple stalls. I understand that is not always the case, though.
  • Squeaky Clean, Pt 2. Most albergues will have a washbasin and a clothes line for you to wash your clothes. Increasingly, albergues are installing clothes washers and dryers as an additional service/ revenue source.
  • It should go without saying but….
    • Albergues are coed. This was never a problem for me but I’ve heard of the occasional modesty issue. The rule to follow—don’t stare at anyone’s junk
    • Bathrooms—Usually not a problem. If it is, talk it through—ladies go first while the guys go out for beer, for example. Same rule applies—don’t stare at other peoples’ junk.
    • At 10-12 Euro a night, please stay polite and moderate your expectations. Most hosts are either volunteers or hosting at their own property.


There are definite codes of conduct for albergues—mostly they can be summed up in the rule of be courteous and respectful. But for some helpful remdinders, here’s a few details:

  • Respect curfew/ departure times. Folks have to get ready for the next crowd.
  • Be quick with your shower—no one likes to wait in line only to find no hot water.
  • If you are leaving early in the morning, take your things out into the hall and pack up there—don’t wake up the folks squeezing out every moment of sleep.
  • Likewise, lots of folks find the red light headlamps useful. They don’t wake up fellow pilgrims as easily.
  • Also to preserve the silence and peace—don’t organize your pack using plastic shopping bags or trash bags. They are noisy and wake people up. Use nylon or mesh bags, instead.
  • Don’t put your backpack on the bed.This keeps things clean and prevents you from transmitting bed bugs on the off chance they are there.
  • Respect the rules about walking poles and boots staying in the hall/ outside. It keeps things cleaner and easier to prepare for the next day.
  • If the albergue/ host provides a meal, make sure you keep your word about your plans. If you are eating there, don’t say yes and then change plans—unless you’re willing to pay for dinner twice. Likewise, don’t say no and expect to have room at the table for you.
  • If you’ve left your clothes on the clothes line, make sure you get them in before nightfall. Nothing like fresh fallen dew to dampen your clothes!!
  • Leave the lower bunks for the less mobile, elderly, or injured.
  • Check out this video from the Don’t Stop Walking series: As a matter of fact, watch all of them!

Recommended Albergues

The below are albergues that I have stayed in and I highly recommend each of them.

Sarria- Albergue La Casona de Sarria: On the eastern outskirts of Sarria, this albergue gives you either a head start on the day’s walk or let’s you have a few minutes extra sleep! The property has 2 medium sized dorms as well as double/ twin accommodations. There’s a large cubbie in the room for your stuff. There are men’s and women’s bathrooms and the bathrooms are arranged so that even the most modest won’t have any issues—and plent of hot water. The hosts provide disposable sheets, pillow, and blanket. There are reading lights at each bunk as well as a power outlet to recharge your phone and keep it nearby. The owners love engaging pilgrims and offer a happy hour with complementary drinks—coffee, soft drink, matcha, beer, and wine. The owners also are great to recommend a restaurant for dinner and will call ahead for you.

Portomarín- Albergue Gonzar: Probably my least favorite. It was a great location, at the top of the steps climbing into Portomarín—and there was a bar on the main floor, which was convenient for snack and breakfast. There were only 2 bathrooms, each with one toilet and shower. Again, the host provided blankets, pillows, and disposable sheets. The amazing part about this albergue was that the host did our laundry for us—4 Euro to wash, 4 Euro to dry. There were lockable lockers for our stuff. There was not an ample supply of power outlets—which were all taken up by a group of inspiring men in their 70’s. They had been friends for years and walked part of the Camino together. They all had CPAPs which was both loud and strangely soothing. And they took up the few power outlets. The establishment did have WiFi.

Palas de Rei—Albergue A Casina di Marcello: Another albergue on the outskirts of town. Another opportunity to get an early start or sleep a little later. The owner, Marcello, is great and a jovial host. His albergue is cozy, clean. Probably my favorite shower. He has laundry facilities (4 Euro to wash, 4 to dry). He’ll also cook dinner for 10 Euro. We chose not to and went out for pizza. He offers fresh linens to guests, a pillow, and blankets. I like that each lower bunk has a curtain to tamp down on light. There’s also a power outlet for every bunk, has WiFi. He also seems to have drinks available for purchase in the afternoons. I will say that you either need to get your breakfast the night before or be prepared to wait a while. It’s a walk to the first cafe.

Ribadiso— Pension Albergue Los Caminantes. I loved this village and this albergue. There were 3 establishments in the village—the municipal albergue (owned by the government), a private albergue (possibly regularly staffed by American volunteers?) and a cafe. That’s it. The albergue had many rooms, which it seems they had the option of partitioning during slower seasons. During high season its just first come first serve bed-wise. Again, there was a blanket, Pillow, and sheets. There was laundry and WiFi. This was the one place where there was the potential for a little embarrassment for the modest. The bathrooms were unisex—but the toilets were in each of their own private rooms. The showers had walls between the shower heads—and were completely enclosed, even if the walls were opaque glass. For a tall person like myself (6’4”) if I didn’t follow the golden rule of Albergues—don’t stare at another person’s junk—there could have been the potential to get an unintended eye-full! Thankfully I was the only one in the bathroom when I showered—and I was quick. I think what I loved about this albergue was that this was the one night we didn’t stay in a town—so we were “forced” if you will to socialize more with the folks we were staying with.

O Pedrouzo- Albergue Mirador de Pedrouzo. From a sheer quality of accommodation, this place was tops. A converted large house, this place had just opened. There were several smallish dorms—each with clean sheets, blanket, pillow, reading light and power port. There was a lockable locker and there were many, many bathroom—all newly installed or remodeled—throughout the building. I will say this was the one place I had a cold shower. Apparently I timed it poorly. They had laundry facilities, a cafe, WiFi and what looked like would eventually be a restored pool. Found as you are coming into town, this albergue is along the route but unlike others, you’ll have to get an early start—especially if you want to make it into Compostela for the pilgrim mass. This one was a little more expensive—14 Euro per night. But it was worth it. This was also the only place where they gave us key cards to get in and out of the building. I passed out before I found out if there was a hard lock-out time.

Santiago de Compostela- Hotel Rua Villar. I certainly do recommend, if you can afford it, to splurge a little when you get to Santiago. While you might assume the only place to stay in relative luxury is the Parador, there are many 2 or 3 star hotels that seem like the lap of luxury. I loved Hotel Rua Villar. You were not even a block away from the Cathedral. They have breakfast available, happy hour. Bathrooms are en suite. WiFi is great and there was air conditioning! They even had room service if you wanted it. I would note, especially if you haven’t travelled in Europe much, that there’s a difference between twin and double rooms. A double room is one double bed. A twin room is 2 twin beds, often pushed together. My very favorite thing about this hotel from a customer service view was this: I sent everything I didn’t need on the Camino ahead to the hotel. They held and had my extra bag in my room upon arrival. They helped me check into my flight and even helped arrange a taxi to the airport at an ungodly hour of the morning.

Are there other places to stay along the Camino besides Albergues? Heavens no! All along the Camino there are pensiones (lower cost hotels akin to a bed and breakfast) and even the occasional hotel. They just aren’t as frequent. But your travel costs are going to go up. Many folks seem to budget staying in either a double room in an alburgue or in a pension once per week—to knock the dirt off, talk a long shower or not have to worry about an early check out.

I also heard a couple tell of a farmhouse they stayed in. The owner opened their home, provided 2 amazing meals and gave them a lovely room to stay in. Accommodations like these—pensiones and farmhouse arrangements usually require some booking or enquiring at the tourist office in the local municipality.