For a church, every interaction matters. Whether it’s a conversation between a parishioner and a new person in your community, a poster advertising an upcoming event or the landscaping of your church property as people drive by, each “touch point” makes an impression. Marketing manages the sum of these impressions. One area that makes a critical impression is the church building itself.
Over the past five years, minimalism has hit the mainstream. People are moving into tiny homes, giving away half of their clothes and donating other possessions to charity. Books like Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” highlight the important physical and mental health benefits of decluttering your home.
The same is true for churches where materials, memorials and other items used in living out ministry tend to accumulate. Walk through any church building, and you are almost guaranteed to find VBS props from four years ago, Christmas decorations unused for 10 years and 25‑year‑old devotional study guides. The result is clutter that creates a stressful atmosphere that may discourage people from connecting with your church.
Churches need to address why they hold onto so much stuff.
- “Clutter is not really an issue for us.” Often our space is so familiar that we no longer notice the clutter. Take a fresh look at your space to see if this is true for you.
- “We’ll get to it later.” Churches put off cleaning days because other activities take priority. Or they simply don’t want to deal with people who may get upset about throwing things out.
- “One day we will use it.” A scarcity mentality says the church will never have enough resources to do ministry. The result is storage spaces filled to the brim with outdated materials that will never be used.
- “This may be worth something.” Churches hold on to old books, projectors and furniture with the hope that these items are valuable. They treat them like a rainy day fund that can be used if the church ever gets into financial trouble.
- “It’s a memorial.” This is probably the trickiest issue for churches to manage. A well-meaning parishioner gave a painting or piano to the church. While it may have been fitting at the time, it’s now no longer used. Secondhand gifts, like sofas for the youth room, make your teenagers feel like they’re due only hand-me-downs and not valued enough to have furniture that fits their style.
We need to deal with the emotional attachments to “stuff” at church as we would in our personal lives and homes. We hang on to material goods to feel secure in the future.
But eliminating the clutter lets us focus more on ministry.
- Prepare spiritually as a team. Pray and meditate on Luke 12:15-21 (the parable of the rich fool) and Luke 12:22-34 (“do not worry”). Read the scriptures as a group, reflect silently individually and then discuss as a group how the teaching applies to your church. Discuss your thoughts and fears about decluttering the church.
- Develop a building strategy. Decluttering experts recommend the need to define zones and the activities within each. Start with a blueprint of your building and identify the different areas: worship, children, youth, seasonal storage and so on. Break down each area based on the activities held there. For example, a youth room may be a zone for teaching, hanging out, games and craft activities. Brainstorm about your activities, and make a list of materials needed to support them. Now, decide where to store those materials.
- Create a schedule for working through the zones. It would be very difficult to declutter the church in one day. Schedule a series of workdays over six or 12 months.
- Walk through the building. Invite a friend to walk through the church with you and to point out anything they feel doesn’t belong or seems like clutter. Take photographs of every space, and circle anything that looks like it doesn’t belong. Walk through as a team, and place one of three different color Post-It notes on items, designating what to throw out, give away or sell.
- Empty all storage areas and sort. Empty one closet at a time. Keep only those items that will be used within the next 12 months and that fit the activities of the specific area. Use storage solutions to organize your materials. If something is to be kept but doesn’t belong in that area, move it to the zone where it belongs. Then throw out, give away or sell everything else.
- Box it up for 30, 60 or 90 days. If something hasn’t been touched for a year, consider getting rid of it. If there’s a question about an item, box it up and put it out of sight for a set period of time. Did anyone ask where it was? If not, consider getting rid of it.
- Keep at it. Keep working through this process until you have eliminated the clutter and have room to spare. Your team may have to work through the same area several times to refine what you need and how to store it. Especially focus on books, decorations and old electronic equipment as they tend to pile up in a church.
- Don’t allow clutter back in. People will continue to want to donate items for the church. Create specific criteria for accepting a major item. Ask how it will be used to understand how it will fit into the ministry of the church. Be willing to say “no, thank you” or try to redirect the donor to give something your ministry can use right away.
This process takes time, but it’s well worth the effort. It can create energy and momentum for church members as well as foster a more welcoming environment for your guests.
Eric Seiberling is a digital nomad who blogs about church effectiveness, marketing and social media at www.flockology.com. He is also a consultant assisting Fortune 500 companies and non-profits to facilitate change using a people-centric approach.