Can Libraries Save The Church?
by Phil Miglioratti @The Reimagine.Network
So I turned the page in a recent issue of Smithsonian magazine. Just hoping for a few minutes of interesting diversion.
The article was simply entitled "New Chapter." "New" caught my attention. I like new ways of approaching old problems or assessing current programs and unexamined systems.
But when I read the headline...


     "At the nation's most innovative public library,
      you can play the ukulele,
      learn photography, or record a song in a top-flight studio. 

    You can also check out a book."

...I realized this article was about to be a tutorial on how to reimagine Church.
As curator for The Reimagine.Network, where we engage and equip church leadership to not be conformed but be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2). I am always on the lookout for new insights and fresh ideas. They come from many different sources:  Outreach Magazine, Church Prayer Leaders Network. @Cityreaching. Inter-Varsity Publishing. I did not expect to be tutored how to re-view "church" by an article in Smithsonian on the library system in Memphis, Tennessee.
"Myriad changes (are) taking place in American public libraries.
Libraries are no longer huge repositories of books.
You can check out books and movies.
But also sewing machines, bicycle repair kits, and laptop computers.
And late fees, a thing of the past.
Those few sentences are enough for some. It is your "Aha! moment."
They have already begun to think conceptually by applying how a library system was transformed to what takes place in the church building; Sundays, weekdays, evenings.
They recognize transformation is a unique equation of keeping some of the old while bringing in some things new.  
Uncommon ideas that support our mission statement while identifying "late fees;" sacred cows to be put out to pasture.
At a time when public libraries were being "increasingly described as obsolete," with many cities slashing library budgets and closing branches, Memphis, one of the poorest cities in the nation, chose instead to "open new branches" and "increase the library budget." Do you see the parallels? (If not, substitute "church" where you see "library") 
Even more stunning, the city hired a new director who had zero schooling and experience in library science. "It caused quite a stir in Libraryland." But while those programmed to say "No!" to change complained and criticized, "attendance at library programs quadrupled in six years, more than 70,000 attended the annual literacy and education festival. Its branches receive more than two million visits a year."
The new director's first step to change the way people think about and benefit from the library "was to rethink the traditional library card."
"The old card was black and white with no design,
just information about rules and fines; it was like getting your parole papers.
There was no sense of joining something."
They made the application process easier and redesigned the library card to "look like a health-club membership card." They realized the process of connecting to the library was a system created for a 19th century society. Instead of simply adding a new coat of paint (or a new color of paper), they tore down the process and started over based on the needs and sensibilities of 21st century communities. This and other systemic changes did not endanger the core purpose of the library; it recast the vision of "library" to the organizational shapers and servers (employees) while reframing the inventory and benefits to the needs and learning modes of the customers in their community.
"The real power of libraries is they can transform people's lives.
But libraries can also be fun." 
Their emphasis in planning shifted from collecting and categorizing books to connecting to the people who want (and need) to read them. And to provide "fun," lifestyle-options, to experience the fiction and nonfiction of their reading. From fitness -health-culinary to discussions-gardening-3D printing. 
The former president of the Public Library Association says, "What's happening in Memphis epitomizes how libraries are becoming community centers; a third place after job and home." A place for children to do homework or explore the world of reading options, a place for people to improve their literacy (reading, digital, financial), a place to learn from books, but from more than books. Work stations, meeting rooms, sewing and embroidery equipment, dinners for the homeless, an incubator for entrepreneurs. He was impressed by "attendance at their programs, the impact they are having on communities...the creative innovative thinking, and visionary leadership."
"If librarians can't save the world, no one can." 
The "librarians" of the Church (pastors, ministers, leaders, prayer champions) need this audacity ... not to make the church into a library but to learn how to rethink, to fearlessly ask uncommon questions, the way they did in Memphis.

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  • #ItSeemsToMe...

    Libraries are not the only institution that is rethinking.

    In a recent  issue of TIME magazine: "Rethinking the Office for Moms"

    "We need a new kind of workplace built with moms in mind...offers childcare support and addresses biases. Reimagining the workplace, if all goes well, for many, it will be the beginning."

    The workplace. Libraries. Schools. Banking. Instacart. Uber. Amazon. Drone Delivery. 

    How people live and move and experience life is undergoing a rapid and radical change.

    The temptation is to ignore how those changes affect the lives of the people we serve and seek to serve by refusing to review and, when Spirit-led, revise. 

    Revise when we meet. How often Where. What we focus on. Revise how we teach/preach (hint: interaction is ubiquitous except in Church).

    The easy (read lazy, fearful) reaction is to stand tall for tradition, much like the Pharisees who were unable to separate tradition from scriptural truth.

    No, not change for the sake of change. Change, for the sake of the Gospel. And the people we mission statement and mottos and branding claim we will go to the ends of the earth to reach.


    Phil Miglioratti


    The Reimagne.Network

  • Great observation, Phil.

    Fully in line with Asset Based Community Development thinking:  What do we have right here in our own neighborhood that helps us not only flourish, but flourish eternally, and significantly as we share the best news (information) known to mankind?

  • From a Featured Member:

    I appreciate the reminder that, if we are open and reachable, God can use any number of cultural or natural “instructors” to help us be more effective for him. Most if not all of Jesus’ parables were just that- ordinary things and situations carrying eternal lessons.  


    Gary Schwerin

  • From a Featured Contributor and Interviewee -

    What a GREAT article on learning from innovation from libraries! "Their emphasis in planning shifted from collecting and categorizing books to connecting to the people who want (and need) to read them."  

    Will probably cite this in our upcoming webinar on "Fun and Meaningful Ways to Invigorate Your Outreach." 

    Heidi Unruh
    Congregations & Community Outreach Project
    1710 E. 2nd Ave.
    Hutchinson, KS 67501
    Search Results - heidi Unruh
    Applying Romans 12:2 to the Church: Every Person & Program, System & Structure, Ministry & Meeting ~ Transformed; Not Conformed!
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