This week I was in a meeting with church leaders and civic leaders in our city. There are some amazing people and things happening in our town. There are people who have huge hearts and care deeply for the people of our city. I was impressed and thankful to be among them.
There was a brief side conversation that took place about a church purchasing a significant piece of property in town. As a result of the church buying the property it came off the tax roles. While many see this as a huge benefit, I struggle with this reality. Many smaller cities like ours are in need of taxes to keep things balanced and to provide core services. I appreciated the fact the official from the city is hopeful that the people coming in for church programs will spend money at local businesses and in this way add to the tax base. Just to be clear nobody from the city had anything bad to say about the church buying the property.
This conversation confirmed some thoughts I have been having about the role of the church in a city. I am convinced that the Church should not own property, or if it is going to, should willingly choose to pay property taxes. Another thought would be to consider repurposing the building to something for-profit that would cover the taxes and provide a service to the community while simultaneously funding the mission.
It’s because often times we own some of the best property in a city. We have a responsibility to the city to be stewards of the city. Part stewarding the city is paying our fair share. This is significant. I know many will read this and say, “It’s not right to pay taxes off of offerings given by the congregation. That money has been taxed already.” Or they might say, “If we had to pay taxes then we wouldn’t be able to afford the building at all!”
To both these critiques I say, “Then don’t own property.”
It is my hope that +The Antioch Movement will some day rent property that owned by a local person. We will be adding to the economy of the city and not simply taking. The other thing this allows for is the ability to respond and adapt to the needs of our community and city. A church that rents can choose to not be building poor. Maintenance will be done by the landlord. Parking lots, landscaping, etc…all would be taken care of by someone else.
This kind of change is foreign in our thinking. The American Dream is to own property and this dream has extended to the local church. Why? Because the Church in America became domesticated and institutional. It is time for the church to return to its roots as an ever changing community that proclaims the excellencies of Jesus in word and deed.