By Rev. Merle L. Brockhoff.
St. James Lutheran in Kansas City, MO had a strong relationship with its ministry partners; but like many congregations, we also had an aging facility and declining membership. We had some tired places and were approaching the need for serious investments that the congregation simply did not have the capital to undertake.
One of our partners was Metro Lutheran Ministries (MLM) the inter-Lutheran social service agency for Kansas City, which had been operating out of a house owned by the congregation for over 30 years. For all those years food deliveries came into the basement of the house through the garage and then were carried up the stairs and across an old Eagle Scout Project wooden bridge for distribution. The house and the bridge were now nearing the end of their useful life.
I had conversations with Jim Glynn, the CEO of MLM, at quarterly lunch meetings. In these meetings, I would tell Jim, “We’d really like to move MLM out of that old house and into more functional facilities, we just have to figure out where and how.”
Step One: Master Planning.
St. James undertook a thorough property review and Master Planning Process, assisted by an architectural firm. That gave us new eyes to see. The Architects introduced us to the idea of right sizing. They helped us dream of what we could do in the future if we grew, but they also encouraged us to think about how we could reshape what we have to serve the current needs and people.
Step Two: Partnership.
The congregation could not remodel space simply in hopes of attracting new people or use.
In one lunch conversation, I learned from Jim Glynn that MLM had an opportunity to access funding from a foundation toward a brick and mortar project. This hatched a “What if we…” moment between us.
Building on the 30+ year partnership, St. James and MLM worked out a lease agreement. St. James would turn over about 1/3 of their facility to MLM for exclusive use for 35 years. MLM would then remodel that portion of the facility for their use. St. James would retain ownership of the property. The remodeling costs invested by MLM were “payment in advance” of rent. Utility costs would be split according to use between the two entities. Future building related repairs and maintenance would fall to the congregation as owners of the overall facility.
It was a win-win. The congregation would get 1/3 of their facility completely renovated at no immediate cost or debt. MLM would gain a new and better designed distribution and service facility for their operations and the ability to expand services.
What began as a hopeful, “I think we can maybe raise $240,000.00” project soon ballooned into a $750,000.00 project.
For a year Jim kept coming back to us and saying, “it looks like we can raise another $200,000.00. Could we add this to the scope of the project?” It really blew us all away how much capital could be accessed and how generous corporations and foundations could be toward a non-profit in whom there was confidence.
The congregation is currently exploring other partnerships, turning over space that once held Sunday School children to a Clothes Closet and case worker offices. Too often those in need are shuffled from place to place as they look for help, what would it look like to make this your “one stop” for help, hope and healing?
As space is turned over to partner use, the membership contracts back into the space that is most beloved to them, the sanctuary. We were thinking that we would have to sell this building, but it may be that the more we give it away, the more God provides it for us.
About the Author
Pastor Merle Brockhoff is an ELCA pastor, Stewardship Coach, former Mission Developer and Intentional Interim Pastor with 35 years of ministry experience currently in his 10th year serving St. James Lutheran in Kansas City.