I tell folks the angriest and most perilous moment in my career revolved around shared space. And it had nothing to do with childcare or outside groups, it was all about the parlor. A Sunday School class had redecorated an unused room for use as a parlor for weddings and funerals. It shared a door with the ladies room closest to the sanctuary and was nicely furnished with armchairs, couches, end tables and lamps. A very nice space.
One day, it became apparent that the oldest men’s class needed a smaller classroom on the ground floor closer to restrooms and the sanctuary. The parlor was a perfect fit. I set it all up with the teacher and class, made new signage, and updated our Sunday morning visitor’s information. Then I heard that the class who had donated the furnishings was upset that they had not been consulted. I went by to smooth things over the next Sunday, and a few members lit into me. How dare I do such a thing after they had spent time and money making that room special? Uncharacteristically, I lit back, and “explained” that once you donate something to the church you no longer have ownership, and did they really think that the oldest men of the church were going to color on the walls and put gum on the chairs? We found another solution, but despite apologies and offers of support, relationships were irreparably damaged. Not my best day.
Fast forward a few years to another church. This time we needed to move a class or two to accommodate the mobility needs of older adults and space requirements of growing younger classes.
I made a tabletop size map of our classroom building. Each room was marked with its square footage and recommended maximum occupancy. Then I made paper markers for every class imprinted with average and maximum attendance figures. I invited all our teachers to come and help plan a new use of our space. After explaining the space needs we were facing and the information that was available. I let them ‘go to it’ in developing a plan. They tried various configurations, looking at best fits and walking distances to entrances, restrooms, nursery and sanctuary. In less than an hour they had come up with a plan that everyone could endorse. Teachers agreed to go back to their classes and advocate for the plan that we would try for six weeks to see if it needed adjustment. We did make one adjustment and have continued to adjust as needed for ten years. Those that will murmur at the gates of heaven still did, but got no traction because their trusted teachers had come up with the plan. We shared ownership of the space and the solution.
You may not need to go to such lengths at your church, and after over ten years in one place, I don’t either. But collaboration built good relationships and effectively met real needs. Co-laboring is harder, but it beats tongue-lashing any day.