Rev. Katherine Glaze Lyle , Chairperson, Partners for Sacred Places

The Rev. Katherine Glaze Lyle
Photo courtesy of Kim Leeson

Chairperson, Partners for Sacred Places

Pamela Green: “Katherine, you are a woman of deep and abiding faith. You have been the pastor of several churches, and you are a well-loved and respected leader in the United Methodist Church. Given your depth of experiences, what is your personal view of Sacred Places and the value they offer communities?”

Katherine Glaze Lyle: “Sacred places matter. These holy places represent the community and all that holds it together. Religious structures, grand or modest, give people a place to gather, worship, fellowship, and enjoy some of life’s most precious and meaningful moments like weddings and baptisms.

As a minister, I also recognize that people can and should gather anywhere the spirit leads them, be it on a mountaintop or in a building. However, the life-changing experiences we have imbue the space with significance. Those shared moments give these sacred spaces a level of importance that goes beyond their practical value reflecting something more transcendent and meaningful.”

The Rev. Katherine Glaze Lyle has been the Chairperson of Partners for over two years, leading its Board and encouraging its staff to find creative ways to face challenges and find new opportunities to serve. Pamela Green, Partners’ Director of Marketing and Communications, sat down with Lyle for a revealing interview about the current state
and future possibilities for America’s sacred places.

PG: “Many congregations across the country are shrinking for various reasons. Some would say it is time to rethink and reimagine the way leadership approaches problem-solving. What advice would you offer congregations looking to maintain or grow their numbers?”

KGL: “First, I think it starts with creating a space and a culture that feels welcoming. At times, churches can be their own worst enemy, and I mean that in the most helpful way possible. It is far too easy to get comfortable doing things a certain way and socializing with the same people without making a concerted effort to reach out to new people who may want to join the congregation. Whether you are a Methodist, Catholic, Muslim, or Jew, you probably have traditions and a set of rituals that may be unfamiliar to someone new. I say go out of your way to include people unacquainted with the practices of your faith, and most importantly, do not make others feel weird when they make a mistake.

I also think digital innovation and a willingness to try new and creative approaches to ministering and delivering programs need to be a regular part of how congregations reach existing and new members. If you want to attract more young people, bulk up your outreach and volunteer programs. While some find it easier to try new things, others struggle and need an external circumstance to push them to a new way of thinking. For some congregations, COVID-19 was the external circumstance they needed to change and evolve. With the global pandemic, congregations had to quickly reimagine worship services and program delivery. Because of these shifts, some churches are enjoying exponential growth in the number of people who participate in online worship services, prayer groups, and bible study classes. For some, digital experiences offer more approachable opportunities to try and participate in a faith community.

Last, I know some congregations are shrinking, but it is important to note that many people are still hungry for profound encounters with God. As church leaders, we must remember one of our most important roles is the function of a facilitator. In our unique position, we can genuinely help people better touch the mystery of the transcendent and enable their encounters with the Divine.”

I guess the point here is this—there is no one-size-fits-all approach. It is about finding the right ways to engage your community. I think for any congregation looking for support in this area, Partners can help. Gianfranco Grande, Executive Vice President, and his team think about fundraising and community outreach strategically and support congregations in reaching outside their known networks to engage new supporters because of the civic value all congregations offer to the entire community. Our work is unique, and the tailored services and care we provide to sacred places makes me proud every day as an avid supporter of the organization and as the board chair.”

PG: “There are times when a sacred place needs to share its story, value, and relevance to civic leaders confidently and cohesively. This can be a challenge for some. Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for congregations working on their narrative?”

KGL: “Remember, churches nationwide offer tremendous value to the community! That critical fact has been reinforced for me over and over during my time at Partners for Sacred Places. Many people do not know this, but almost 90% of those who benefit from community programs hosted by congregations are not members. They are people from the community at large. Churches offer pockets of stability and support. If you are a civic leader who cares about your city’s quality of life, however big or small, you want to foster the smaller groups within the larger body doing meaningful work.

Churches, especially historic ones, also share their structures of beauty for civic functions, concerts, voter education discussions, and so much more. These sacred places offer the perfect atmosphere for gathering and connecting, a considerable benefit to the community that many overlook.

Congregations also offer positive engagements and a presence that lifts the entire community while striving to improve the overall quality of life for those living in those neighborhoods. No matter what the community needs, a daycare, or programs for the homeless, congregations remain committed to making a difference. Now, suppose a sacred place collects all the relevant and invaluable services they offer to the community and shares that information in a compelling way to a civic leader. I must believe that civic leader will not only listen to the story but he or she might become a passionate supporter and protector of that sacred place.”

PG: “Katherine, digital transformation and out-of-the-box thinking will be crucial for congregations looking to grow and thrive now in the future. Do you have a recent example of creative thinking that you can share with us?”

KGL: “I do. On the Oak Lawn United Methodist Church campus in Dallas, there is a new church which is also a coffee shop, Union Coffee. It shares the property with the church, has become a positive asset in the neighborhood, and the shop is supported by the entire community. I believe more and more faith communities will have to find revenue sources beyond asking for donations, and Union Coffee Shop does this well. Not only is it an intelligent way to generate revenue, but it creates a welcoming space for people to come in, socialize, and support a sacred place in the community that matters. There is another church here in Dallas known for their tamales, and at Christmas, the women make these “killer” tamales and sell them. The money goes to support the church and its programs.