Should Churches take a Page from Public Libraries?

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If public libraries are renewing themselves in the digital age, maybe churches should take a page from these civic institutions.

While free content for reading has spread like a pandemic through the Internet, public funding for liberal arts has plummeted. If I am anything like the average public library supporter, one would think libraries are in trouble.

The past three years I’ve checked out more than 20 books from two libraries without stepping foot into a building. Armed with a library card and a Kindle, I’ve simply downloaded the library books via the Internet.

I’ve paid attention to libraries because of another at-risk institution I highly value – the local Christian church. I work directly with dozens of churches each year. I can see the steeple of our church over a hay field, a mile from our home..

Here’s how libraries are transforming themselves.

Libraries are well past providing a couple of computer workstations. Today, libraries create collaborative technology spaces used by students and entrepreneurs alike

Libraries are providing a broad range of educational opportunities. You can learn how to write a resume, code a webpage or speak a new language.

Libraries are now providing office space for community-based organizations. Libraries are creating community gardens or seed-lending programs for home gardens. Space is provided for group meetings.

I want to see local churches make a similar resurgence. Libraries can certainly inspire churches. In some ways libraries can also serve as models for churches.

Churches would need to become centers of community, not just community centers.  

A church can become a hub for the community. I know a few churches providing technology and computer training for the community. Any number of churches provide community education opportunities and host community groups.

However, there is a significant difference between providing space for the community and creating community. The major difference is relationships.

As a facilitator and consultant, I have asked the same question of dozens of organizations that meet weekly in churches: “How often does someone from the church stop by to briefly invite you all to participate in a church event?” A majority of the time, the answer is, “Never.”

If church leaders can’t find the time to invite the Jazzercise class to Thanksgiving Eve worship once a year, what are the odds of having members join the class to develop relationships with new people? Yet, this is exactly what it takes for a church to create community while providing space for the community.

Where libraries are casting new visions as community centers, churches would need to become centers of community as a strategy to fulfill their visions. 

A public library in Springfield, MO has the following vision statement: “A thriving library that is an integral part of the lives of the community.”

For churches, vision includes seeing people come faith in Jesus, then mature in that faith. This means becoming a center of community is a strategy, creating an environment where God does God’s work in the hearts of people.

How do you see public libraries serving as models for churches? Record your thoughts in the comments or shoot me an email.

3 thoughts on “Should Churches take a Page from Public Libraries?

  1. Your focus on technology in library use is correct, but there is even more significant changes. One organization, The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, has enabled libraries to make a “turning outward” transition towards the community. This same philosophy and tool use works amazingly well in the faith community also.


  2. Wow, this is something I have not thought of like this before. I am an Elder and most likely soon to be chairman of the congregation. We have “an outsider” that rents our fellowship hall for exercise classes. This program has been going on for about a year now and I have not once set foot in the church on their class night to thank them for coming or to invite them to church. Shame on me. Thanks for making me think about this!!


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