It has long been my contention that one of the easiest “wins” a parish can achieve comes in cleaning up public spaces, such as lobbies, nurseries, and the sanctuary. Clutter and dirt are the secret enemies of the church, diminishing the experience of your facility for parishioners and discouraging newcomers from engagement.
There are many reasons why this is true but it essentially boils down to this: clutter competes for the attention of your guests. One moment, they are listening to your carefully crafted, doubtlessly compelling homily and the next they are wondering “How old are those leftover funeral flowers?” Besides, it just makes people uncomfortable. It is difficult to relax in a space that is cluttered and dirty.
There is one other major benefit to declaring war on clutter in your parish campus. Not only does it make your spaces more welcoming, it also can increase the size of your physical footprint. That’s right: you can add square footage to your building without undertaking a capital campaign and expensive building project by reclaiming space that has been relegated to storage. The thing about storage spaces in many churches we’ve visited is that they are, most of the time, full of stuff that is unused, neglected, and forgotten. In almost all cases, parishes will be no worse off without most all of it.
Space is what ultimately enables ministry, not stuff. At one time, we had a fairly large storage space just off our lobby, which served as storage for seasonal decorations, mostly Christmas decorations. That meant virtually no one even went in there most of the year. Eventually we found the inspiration to clean the place out, discarding much of the contents, finding a new location for the Christmas decorations in a remote corner of our facility, and repurposing this prime piece of real estate as a nursery. Many comments were immediately received from parents who struggled with their little ones at church. They told me that being able to put their kids in the nursery during Mass changed everything for them. It communicated that their kids were valued and had a place where they could really enjoy their time at church while freeing up the parents to lend themselves to the Eucharist, instead of babysitting. Newcomers we attracted to this new service, too.
Another, great example of this in action comes from Rebuilt partner parish, St. Columbkille in Parma, Ohio. The pastor, Fr. Anthony Suso, and his lay associate Scott Effertz recently reclaimed a prime location in their church building from the grip of storage and turned it into a welcoming retreat for volunteer ministers serving on the weekend. The new ‘Minister’s Suite’ gives volunteers a place to go to receive their instruction for the day, connect with other ministers, and relax during downtime. But beyond the convenience and utility, the space makes volunteer ministers feel valued, even special.
As you can see from the before and after photos, the project was a success. The cleanout even uncovered a hidden gem of a stained-glass window that was otherwise unknown to the parish. Additionally, it made space for a fridge, coffee station, and snacks (as we like to say “Volunteers aren’t free”). During the week, it can be used as meeting space for small groups or staff.
So, take a look around, where do you have storage space you don’t need, because you’re storing stuff you don’t need, that could actually be converted into space that could assist or even advance your ministry?