Thursday, February 4, 2021

But You're on a Major Bus Line (with a bike lane)!

Maybe you are like me and walk everyday.  Working, mostly, at home is too sedentary, therefore I  walk.  If you need a walking nudge or impetus, just read Peter Walker's new book, The Miracle Pill.  While I walk I listen to podcasts.  No big deal, we all do that.  But something happened last week that has not happened before...

While listening to a Lewis Center for Church Leadership podcast on Leveraging Your Church Assets featuring Rev. Jacquline Jones-Smith I yelled "But you're on a major bus line (with a bike lane)."  Luckily, no one was around - to my knowledge.  

So what brought about this, uncharacteristic, raising of my voice?

This particular episode is absolutely wonderful, it tells the story of an amazing and talented and strategic pastor, Rev. Jacquline Jones-Smith's, and her work to revitalize a downtown congregation in St. Petersburg, FL (Christ United Methodist Church).  One part of her strategy included asset mapping of her congregation.  If you are not familiar with asset mapping, here is a quick tutorial.  

Rev. Jones-Smith noticed a 2/3 acre parking lot across the street from the building that the church owned.  Rather than seek to preserve an empty downtown lot, Rev. Jones-Smith formed a Taskforce and charged them to investigate.  The Taskforce discovered this lot was a goldmine.  How much of a goldmine?  $5.3 million dollar goldmine!  Although the land was valued at $6.3 million they sold it for $5.3 with a deal that included a parking variance - the church, in perpetuity has access to over 100+ parking spots.  The genius behind this move was twofold: one the church received a ton of money, and two, they actually increased their parking capacity.  

I acknowledge the business savvy and shrewdness of this move, but as I heard this description in the podcast I screamed aloud, "But you're on a major bus line (with a bike lane)."  I love the deal they made and the money they raised.  But why, when asset mapping, is public transit and bike lanes and sidewalks, also not included as positive factors?

Again, I love the creativity and work this church and pastor accomplished.  I tip my hat to them and thank them for their inspiration. However, this story reveals a common practice for nearly 99.99% of all churches and houses of faith in America: building a membership on solely a car-centric model.  This model limits our imagination of what is possible.  

Rather than succumb to this model, I challenge churches and houses of faith and other nonprofit institutions to look beyond car-centric models.  Christ United Methodist Church is on a major bus line, which also has a dedicated bike lane (and on-street, probably even free, parking).  Therefore why not incorporate those aspect into your church strategic plan?  Why not start with a hybrid membership model built around both people who drive in from outside downtown and those who ride the bus, bike, or walk to church.  Why not challenge those who drive in to church to experiment one Sunday to take the bus, ride their bikes, walk (or at least car pool into church on Sunday mornings)?  

I propose when you do this, you will also find another significant asset just waiting for them to explore and incorporate.  

And as you may have surmised, I have an entire chapter of church parking lots in my forthcoming book!

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