We have a lot of Churches in Dallas. A Google Maps search for “Church” (below) shows that we have a lot of Churches in Dallas.
The screen shot above shows the number of Churches in the city is almost comical. Still, just by sheer population numbers in Dallas County the number of churches shouldn’t be that surprising. If just 5% of Dallas County residents wake up on Sunday morning to go to church, and if we believe the average church on Sunday morning to have about 100 people, then we would easily expect over 1200 churches in Dallas County. That would make churches one of the biggest institutions in the City.
But what value is it?
Churches (at least in principle) offer a unique niche in a community. Churches really serve as the only institution where everyone is welcome. A random person off the street isn’t allowed to just walk into an elementary school, for example. A person really shouldn’t go and spend time at a hospital unless they have a reason to be there. Churches, on the other hand, offer a unique place where everyone is welcome to come and spend time with others in their communities. At my Church, I greet investment bankers and ex-drug addicts. Teachers and Drop-outs. Elderly women fawn over my 2 year old son. Church is a broad mix. At Church I am connected to many people from all walks of life that there is simply no other way I would come in contact with. Religion is really the only institution that truly promotes broad communities. That’s the primary value and purpose of Church. If not for Church, how many elderly women would know who I was? How would my son learn to interact with old men? How many teenage boys would I play softball with? Probably not very many.
That’s why Churches are vital to strong communities. They bring us together in ways that no other institutions can. I have heard the argument that “The Cowboys are my Church”. After throwing up a little in my mouth, my response to that is: “What will the Cowboys do for you when you lose your job? Will they still let you in to see the game?” Probably not. Churches are there in the communities when you need them and they are there in the communities needing you.
This piece, I believe, is ultimately the missing key for why suburban “walkable” developments feel fake. Legacy Town Center in Plano is really a neat development in a lot of ways. But it will always feel contrived to me. It’s a great place to “Live Work and Play” -so long as your credit card is accepted. A Google Maps search for “Church” around the Legacy area looks pretty different than the previous one.
Only three results are within miles of the development -and two of them aren’t actually churches. Legacy is a development that has fabulous commercial success, and horrendously fails at community building. The problem is that once a member of the community can’t pay to play, the community rejects the person. That’s not community at all. (Update: I was just informed that there is a church – City Church http://www.citychurchtv.com/– that meets on Sunday mornings at the Angelika Film Center. It is within walking distance of residents in Legacy Town Center. Glad to hear.)
Here is my critique:
- If grandma has to drive several miles to go to church on Sunday morning, you failed at city building.
- If a person in pain has to do a Google Maps search to find a minister to talk to them, you failed at city building.
- If you don’t include space for the pieces of communities that bring people from different walks of life together, you failed at city building.
I hope you are starting to get the picture. It would be a cynical euphemism to say that Christians have had a checkered history. But at it’s best, if Christians set themselves to work to make it serve the communal value was design to serve, then the Church and other religious organizations become an invaluable asset and serves a valuable function to the City and Community that shouldn’t be disregarded nor ignored when developers and planners are laying out their developments and cities.