Can We Afford Model T Churches?

One of our ambitions is to make more ministers more discontented with the tools with which they work.

JOHN R. SCOTFORD, Reprinted by permission from "Protestant Church Administration and Equipment

This magazine exists that Protestantism may have better churches. Before the eyes of ministers, who are always and inevitably the key men in getting done what does get done, we are dangling a multitude of ideas to help them toward better buildings and more effec­tive congregations. One of our ambitions is to make more ministers more discontented with the tools with which they work.

"Your ideas are fine," we can imagine some readers saying, "but they are not for us. Our church cannot afford them!"

Of course we do not expect every congrega­tion to carry out every suggestion, but we do offer many which are relatively inexpensive. To those who are oppressed by their own poverty we would offer a counter question: "Can your church afford not to improve its facilities?"

Here the auto industry can shed some light on our problem. As it has improved its product, the public has been glad to pay a higher price for its car.

Model T's cost between $500 and $600, and we wore out three of them. They were wonder­ful contraptions. If you did not have enough gas to get up a hill going forward, you turned around and did it backward. If the motor was hard to start, you jacked up one hind wheel.

When the motor jammed, you rocked the car backward and forward. When wheels came off, paper clips were sometimes adequate to the situation. On the other hand, your first question in a new town was: "Where is the Ford garage?" The life of a car was 20,000 miles, or twenty months.

My new car cost three-and-a-half times the old Fords, but it will go five times as far and last three times as long. Instead of chugging noisily, it purrs; instead of hopping, skipping, and jumping, it glides down the road. The driver is no longer an uneasy soldier of fortune but a person of dignity. The new car is a much better buy than the old Tin Lizzie.

We still have plenty of Model T churches. Most of the ministers who read these words are serving churches which are more or less obsolete.

Many Model T churches are wonderful in their way. People love them because of what has happened in them and because of the sacri­fices which have been made for them. They have served well in their day and time.

Yet these old church buildings suffer from many disabilities. Their location may render them difficult of access, particularly by car. The exterior may be uninviting. An antiquated heating system may restrict the days and hours when the building can be used. The lighting may make the congregation uncomfortable. The musical arrangements may discourage the at­tendance of those with sensitive ears. The lack of a properly equipped office may hinder the activities of the congregation and compel the minister to spend time running a mimeograph machine when he should be concerning himself with more important matters.

If you have a Model T church, what should you do about it?

First, a fundamental decision must be reached. Is the congregation content to die, or does it want to live?

For a church, continued existence at a "poor dying rate" is increasingly difficult. The pace of modern life is too swift for institutions which drag their feet. If a congregation can see no prospect of usefulness, it should die in peace, which is an honorable procedure. Some denomi­national officials go about the country sobbing over the great number of churches which have closed their doors. Their tears are wasted; most of these congregations needed to die. Often that is the best thing a church can do.

If a church refuses to die, it should dare to live!

To keep out of the grave it must woo the new. It cannot make all things new overnight, but it must make a minimum selection: new location, new sign, new doors, new lights, new musical instrument, new office, new carpet—new something.

"But how can we pay for these things when we are already having trouble supporting what little we now have?" Many will ask that ques­tion.

Here is where faith comes in. What most ministers and churches need is plain courage. Two fallacies hover over most church boards: (1) The members we now have are all that we can get. (2) Our people are giving all that they can. Both may be true of the church as it is, although we doubt it, but neither is true of your church as it might be.

Few people in their community would buy a Model T for $600, but they gladly pay $2,000-plus for current models. The same principle holds for churches. The more current your ec­clesiastical model the greater the number of people who want it, and the better the price which they will pay.

Putting the same thing another way, the in­clination to support a church becomes stronger as the church becomes more worth supporting. On the financial side, most gifts to the church have only a scanty relation to the total means of the giver. What they actually reflect is the value which the giver places upon his church. It is not the amount of money that he has but how strong the impression which the church makes on him which governs the size of his pledge.

In this process of getting out of the Model T class, the first step is the hardest. At this point somebody must take a chance. It can be the minister, but it had better be a layman. In most congregations there is somebody who will supply either the dollars or the nerve—or both—for a little venturing. If one innovation works, others will follow.

In these pages we hope to tempt every church, whatever its size, to move on down the road toward tomorrow. We would inspire little coun­try churches to spruce up, hang out a sign, paint the door, and install some real heat. We would prod town churches into providing better social and educational facilities. We would urge city churches to take an honest look at their loca­tion and their building and then face the ques­tion of moving to a more adequate site.

Many years of dealing with all sorts of churches has convinced us of one simple truth. If a congregation can be confronted with some­thing which is obviously worth doing, and which they feel is within their capacity, they will do it. The professional fund raising agencies have proved that in thousands of cases. Here the secret is to find the step which meets these specifications.

Our part is to multiply temptations towards progress, and to make them as alluring as possi­ble. At times we may be a nuisance, but we be­lieve that in the long run we can stimulate our Protestant churches to a greater service to more people. That is our hope.


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JOHN R. SCOTFORD, Reprinted by permission from "Protestant Church Administration and Equipment

March 1955

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