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Dave Burke

The shrewd manager and your church building

A lot of churches own a building which lies empty for most of the week. This is madness, why not use your real estate to make friends with your community?

Photo: Toa Heftiba (Unsplash, CC)

There is a weird parable in Luke’s gospel – the parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16:1-13). A household manager is embezzling funds and gets the sack. But before he leaves, he calls in some of his master’s creditors and cuts a sweet deal with each of them. They now owe that manager a favour and he can leave his job in disgrace knowing that his new friends will look after him!

What a crook! Yes, but Jesus seemed to approve, ‘The sons of this world’, he said, ‘Are more shrewd in dealing with this generation than are the sons of light’ (Luke 16:8 ESV)

Scholars have struggled to interpret this story, and Luke goes on to tag at least three different lessons from it (so he might have been struggling too!). But there is a simple practical lesson to take away; use the stuff you possess to make friends (9).

A lot of churches own a building which lies empty for most of the week. This is madness, why not use your real estate to make friends with your community?

Here are five ideas for shrewd believers:



Every English village and city district has an Anglican church at its heart. We call them ‘parish churches’. Worship happens there every week, but all through the week many of these buildings are community centres, buzzing with activity.

If the locals feel comfortable visiting for a health check or a fitness class they are more aware of who we are, and what we do. They become more likely to return for specifically spiritual reasons.

What if every evangelical church (Anglican, Baptist, Pentecostal, Free Church, whatever) set out to become the ‘Parish Church’ for their community? So that the people around us come in and out so often that they regard ‘our’ space as their own turf.



Somewhere near you there is a regular meeting of local community organisations, support groups and charities. Find out where it is and join it – I bet you will be the only church there. As you build friendships with local community groups you are already being salt and light – out of the saltshaker, a city on a hill!

Our local group is called the East Area forum – I have been going every month for years – and it has been fruitful. After identifying the need to support poor families in school holidays the local authority approached us to run a summer club for kids and parents. They even offered to pay! We accepted.

So why not start the journey, turn up at your local forum.



If your church building is in a suitable location, it may be an ideal place for people to meet. Our building is used for business meetings, training events, children’s singing clubs, dance and football coaching or toddlers, and many other things. Our own activities happen alongside these and about 1,200 people pass through our place every week.

This gives us wonderful opportunities to make friends. Through warm hospitality and free gospel materials to take away, people are beginning to open up spiritually.

Of course, this generates work, and some income. So you may be able to pay someone to manage it all. I don’t think the master in Luke 16 would have objected to that!



A church I know in the north of England produced a professional survey of their ‘parish’ with the help of a church member who was a health visitor. The survey revealed a high proportion of people living alone or in hostel accommodation within half a mile of the church.

Some women began a weekly community lunch to reach out to these people. Nobody came to the first one, and only a few to the second. Four years later they feed sixty people each week and the event is a local legend. God has used it to set the lonely in families and bring people to a knowledge of himself.

All kinds of things have flowed from this, an Alpha Course, discipleship group and friendships to name a few. Lonely locals drop by for a chat or a bit of breakfast during the week. The church has become their place, their family, and some of them have found the Lord.



Everything I’ve mentioned so far will bring you into contact with people in need, and some of them will have very complex needs. To meet these challenges, you will need partners with the knowledge, experience and resources to help.

To whom would you send a rough sleeper for help? How can someone get benefits advice? Do you have anyone trained to deal with a mental health crisis such as someone with suicidal thoughts?

Here’s where a good knowledge of your community pays off. Get to know organisations and individuals who can meet these kinds of needs and be prepared to signpost people to them.


So many churches lie empty, tidy and quiet – everything in its place - ready for the next funeral!

I think we should change that. Every church building should be busy, messy and noisy! A community hub where shrewd believers reach out to their communities.

Dave Burke is pastor of a church in Sunderland (United Kingdom)




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