Updated:  After Tobias’s Comments, I’ve changed this post so that it doesn’t refer to ACNA.  I think he is right in his analysis.

I believe that ACNA, the new convocation of traditionalist, anti-gay sex churches might be offering the Episcopal Church a gift.

I do believe that TEC’s immediate response toward the new province is justifiable.  In an atmosphere of mutual hostility and recriminations, the suspicion that TEC is on its way to irrelevance and ACNA wants to take all the property, our conflict is placed in the hands of secular law.  It is ugly.  And it seems necessary.  But it need not be.

If we want to grow as a church, we should sell our buildings.  Not all of them, but ten percent.  Let that ten percent endow tentmaking ministry in the church.

Money that could be spent on mission is now used to maintain buildings with decades of deferred maintenance.  Congregations often place a higher priority upon a building’s beauty than reaching out to the spiritually bereft, without taking care of them effectively.  Their pledges, instead of being used to bring people into the light of Christ, are used for building projects.  Although not all building maintenance is useless, it misplaces resources that could especially used for church growth.

I don’t mean this to be a universally applicable sentiment.  Maintaining buildings is effective after a church can afford the staff that helps the laity do the work of ministry.  A building may be a church’s ministry.  But too often, it sucks the energy and resources of struggling congregations who should be spending money on sending people out into the world.

A good example are congregations in Manhattan.  New York City has several million inhabitants.  There are dozens of churches on the island.  However, few of the churches are growing.  The well endowed don’t have to.  But the rest, what will come of them?

It can’t be because there aren’t people.  Redeemer Church, for example, a PCA church, has more than six thousand members and plants communities.  Times Square church has thousands.   People are surely eager for the Word.

Some argue that the reason is because of the type of Christianity being peddled.  Conservative Christianity has stronger appeal.   It demands commitment that pusillanimous churches won’t have.   They are better organized and are more entrepreneurial.  Theologically modern churches, in this view, are simply destined to pass away.

If this is true, then we should sell our buildings.  Sell them to ACNA at a little less than market value.  We’ve been poor stewards of many of our churches.  Time to let them go.  Sell them to churches who will care for them.    We’ve implicitly given up the belief that a progressive church can thrive, justifying our mismanagement by worshiping the ideal of the small church and country parson.

There are good objections.  We’ve sold properties before, without any sense of how we should use the income.  Instead, we continued our poor practices.  We should not sell our buildings merely to create an income for spending irresponsibly on the 1950’s niche model of doing church.     But we should recognize that we’ve mistaken mission for maintenance.  We’ve poured our money into buildings rather than building relationships.  We must stop.

Sell ten percent of all our buildings to endow varieties of tentmaking ministers and clergy.

I’m not sure which buildings we would sell.  I might start with the ones in the worst shape.  I would analyze the demographics of all the churches in the local diocese and see which ones can support paid staff effectively and have congregations who want to grow.    Yes, there will be some places we’d sell that might seem like bad choices.    However, if a congregation lacks resources to care for a building, is uninterested in church growth, and lacks leadership to do either, sell that piece of property, or offer it to a developer for 20 years.    Put the money into triple rated bonds and take out just a few percent a year.

The endowment would subsidize the tentmaker’s vocation.  It may include insurance, pension, continuing education, transportation, housing allowance and $10,000 in hospitality (this would be a necessity).   Some may work other vocations for their stipend, but are liberated from requiring a day job that has benefits.  Perhaps tentmakers would conduct morning or afternoon services in a partnering Episcopal church, providing support or collaborating with overworked full time rectors who never have enough time to write a decent sermon.

Some may be people seeking ordination.  Others might be lay people who have other professional jobs.  Others might be interns in big companies or chaplains at universities.  And a few might be paid, full-time tentmakers whose only job is to bring the gospel to the people.

Tentmakers will have to be special sorts.  In Malcolm Gladwell’s terms, they will be “connectors”  and “mavens” of spirituality.  They will be eager to make friends, build community, and organize.   They will meet groups in bars, movie theaters, providing opportunities for people to serve.  They may invite people they meet to church, or they may also encourage rectors, and continue networking.  They will be ready when people have questions about spirituality, Jesus and God.   I suspect that they will be extroverts of a sort, good at music, with a sense of jouissance.

Such a position would have to have clear expectations and a way for people to be evaluated, encouraged and trained.  But an endowment would give such people freedom to experiment and be creative in their ministry.

Selling 10 churches in NYC could an endowment of about $50 million dollars.  That would allow us to fund anywhere from 30 to 70 people willing to be the church in the world.   Selling an additional 100 (or even 1000!) churches throughout the country for the purpose of funding people, rather than buildings, would show some audacity and foresight.  We would be the first denomination to fund the leadership of the next wave of churches, the emerging church.

ACNA might just be offering TEC that opportunity.  Sell them the buildings.   God bless them if they can do better.