Church, Inside Out: Tabor Space


Most churches invite people to their church programs in their buildings, and with the space and time they don’t use, they rent to outside groups.

The people of Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church in Portland decided to turn that model on its head – and they created a vibrant community in the process.

“Churches think that if they build it, people will come,” says Rev. Carley Friesen, the pastor. “But we took the approach of community organizers. We found out what the community said it needs, rather than offering what we thought it needs.”

The result: the church has turned itself inside out. Instead of 100 church members focusing on getting community members to come to worship, they have opened the building to 3,000 folks each week who come for a remarkable variety of events and programs, collectively known as Tabor Space.

It started nine years ago when Carley led the church to open a coffee shop in the side chapel attached to the beautiful old Craftsman-style sanctuary. The church wanted to see what kind of community might emerge around cups of “Bell Tower Coffee”. The church asked the patrons what kind of things they wanted to see happen in the space. The church tried sponsoring its own concerts in the space, but concluded it was best for concert organizers to approach the church for room use. Nonprofits and small businesses started asking to rent space. Over coffee, these renters began to get to know each other, and a network of relationships began to form. This led to the creation of Tabor Space as a distinct project of the church, with a steering committee made up of church and wider community members. “Whenever we connect people with each other, that is the work of the Spirit – the energy that makes connections to God and to each other,” says Carley.

Tabor Space renters are expected to meet regularly to collaborate on events and programs. The thousands of neighbors who come into the building weekly have developed relationships over the years, giving Tabor Space a strong identity of its own.

Inspired by the model they had created, Tabor Space leaders formed a new organization, Revive Community Commons, to spread the word about this approach to community organizing in sacred spaces around the country and world.

“Our church membership numbers have not changed,” reports Carley, “but our personality has changed: now our church is all about openness and hospitality and welcoming. We’ve made more ways for more people to encounter sacred space. God does God’s work here.”

READ MORE about creative community organizing by churches HERE…..

About the Author Jim Burklo

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Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California

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