By David Francis
What do we do with the church library? That’s a question many pastors ponder as they seek to be good stewards of their church facilities.
For Ron Edmondson, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky, the answer is “The Sending Center”—an updated version of the church library that marries discipleship with missions in one room.
Immanuel opened its Sending Center in May, and it was packed. The new center is a place to find information about missions and service opportunities, to pick up or purchase prayer and discipleship resources, or to just hang out and enjoy a cup of coffee and conversation.
Plus, people can still check out books, although the library team cleared and donated a lot of titles, determining to focus on Christian fiction, children’s books, and the most current nonfiction books about Christian living.
The center will also become the distribution point for group Bible study materials.
“The intent and overall goal is to energize the room again while furthering the church’s mission,” says Edmondson.
Before the changes, Edmonson says, interest in the library had waned—a situation common to many churches. Nevertheless, Edmondson didn’t want to close the library.
“We still saw value in what the ministry could contribute to the overall mission of the church—to lead people to become growing followers of Jesus Christ,” he says.
Morlee Maynard, professor of Christian education at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, helped Edmondson crystallize his strategy for the revived library.
“There is a movement among church librarians to rethink the space as a disciple-making center,” says Maynard, who also serves as church library ministry specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources. “That can express itself in a host of pragmatic and creative ways.”
Ideas for renewal
As churches focus on making disciples and nurturing their growth, the library can serve as a support center for all ministries, Maynard says. “Disciple making is a major component of the heritage of church libraries.”
An important question to ask is, “What needs do leaders and members in our church have that the library could meet?”
Could you clear a space to display curriculum materials so small group leaders could browse before buying?
Can you visualize a round rug with a magazine rack in the center displaying magazines like HomeLife, Open Windows, On Mission, and others?
Could this be the place members of all ages pick up their devotional materials? Perhaps you can envision a box for people to contribute to the cost of these resources.
Can you imagine children sitting on another colorful rug perusing Christian books for kids?
What other centers can you envision for your disciple-making center? Here are a few ideas:
- Family resources
- Missions opportunities
- Ideas for serving
- Tracts for sharing
- A browsing table of Christian best-sellers (it doesn’t have to be about “checking out” anymore)
- A coffee bar with proceeds to a hunger effort
- A photo station for new members or passport pics
- Maybe one or two carefully culled shelves of traditional book “stacks” (just because somebody dropped off a box of books doesn’t mean you have to keep them)
- A shelf of books to trade (leave what you’ve read; take what you haven’t)
Beginning a journey
In a church I served before joining LifeWay, membership actually began in the church library.
It was quiet and close to the worship center, so it offered the perfect place for talking with people responding to the message.
The invitation after the sermon gave two options: walk down front or make your way to the church library. No matter where they started, everyone eventually ended up in the church library.
Today, I might call it a disciple-making center. It’s where everyone in our church began the journey of discipleship and where many continued to grow in Christ.
What if your church library was so compelling that people returned often for help in taking the next step on their journey?
That place, whatever you call it, could be an essential part of equipping Christians to do the ministry of the church. That should be the goal of every church library.
Learn more about disciple-making centers at the Church Librarians Network website, ChurchLibrarians.ning.com