In May, dozens of people packed the downstairs meeting space in the Greenfield Public Library to hear a presentation about Tiny Houses. These pint-sized housing options are sweeping the nation as more people are coming to terms with less, in homes less than 300 square feet. A simple Google search will give you stories about tiny houses being used to combat homelessness in Kansas, tiny houses as mission projects, and tiny houses as novelties for neighbors, and on and on.
I’m a firm believer that today’s trend is tomorrow’s statistic.The trick is to understand what those trends mean.
I’m here today to argue that tiny homes are a trend that you, your congregation, and the wider church community ought to take seriously. Now, I know what you’re thinking. I’m about to go all anti-consumerist rant on you, but I’m not. I know that for many people the decision to live in a tiny house is often a reaction to living in a consumeristic society. I like to think of it as the ultimate decision to downsize, but I don’t believe that it goes deep enough.The broader and deeper question at play here is one of land use. Tiny houses speak to the reality that people’s lives can be lived, safely, comfortably, in spaces that many would consider no larger than the average walk-in closet.
The problem most people face when dealing with a tiny house is not the stuff aspect, but the problem of where to park it. With few exceptions, most of the nation’s cities and towns are not equipped to deal with the problem of tiny houses. Cities and town planning departments tend to follow internationally accepted building codes, which do not allow for the building of tiny houses.
Enter: the issue of land use and land use regulation.
I hear you wondering: so, what?
The established church in the United States was built utilizing a system of land use regulation that offers a pride of place to the landowners of the day. I come from New England, which boasts Congregational Churches that hold the historic memory of a time when being able to vote in town elections meant being a member of the church. It wasn’t until the disestablishment of the 1830s that all town members were not forced to do pay into the church coffers. The Congregational model is one that assumes a fixed understanding of community. Communities, in this case, being defined by the geographical limits of the town or parish setting in which they find themselves. The Church becomes, in effect, the town, village, or city in which they are located.
So, when a trend begins to not only call into question that understanding and also offers an alternative approach, then I think it makes a certain amount of sense to deeply explore that idea.
Here are four possibilities.
- Church Parking Lots: Consider becoming a haven for Tiny House people in your community. You’ve already built and paved it, now let people park upon it. Instant good publicity.
- Tiny House Churches: Build one. Keep it. Make it a church. Drive it places. Offer communion. Instant community. The novelty alone will attract people. The broader question of consumption, stuff, and needs vs wants has the potential to positively impact a church bottom line. (Or at least spawn a really great tag sale.)
- Fight the Town: If you have one of these Tiny House conflicts going on in your area, then show up at town meetings and defend the rights of the tiny home owner. The church tends to stand with the status quo.
- Build one and give it away: Plans for these homes are plentiful in the nation’s public libraries. Do some digging. Find a plan. Find a partner to help with homelessness, poverty, or simply to show that the church understands the plight of people who need a place in the world.
My point: tiny houses won’t remake the church, but they can be a useful tool to help broaden and deepen a needed discussion about property rights, property use, and what really ought to serve as the foundation for Christ’s church moving forward.
Hope this was helpful.
Drop a comment below with your thoughts.
Rev. Jeremiah Rood lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Amanda, and two small black cats. He has experience working in local congregations but most recently has turned his attention to building an active online ministry at www.revjeremiahrood.com and www.localchurchrevival.com. Rev. Jeremiah’s ministry also includes spending a year in a detox working with struggling addicts and alcoholics. His time is now split between writing a book exploring these issues and working with folks struggling with a variety of different developmental and life challenges.