Jesus once talked about making friends with one's accusers on the way to court (Matt. 5:25–26). Today, he might tell a church to make friends with neighbors before meeting with the local zoning board.
That's because neighborhood residents and municipal officials often view local churches and nonprofit organizations as liabilities rather than assets to a community. Here, then, are four tips for minimizing the tension and avoiding long and costly legal battles:
- Meet with city officials and learn their perspective on zoning issues. File all necessary permits and paperwork, and anticipate objections. Talk with an attorney who understands zoning issues.
- Know your neighbors and spend time listening to their concerns. Let them know what your church's ministry is all about and how it adds value to their area.
- Pray. Zoning issues can be spiritual battlegrounds, not just arguments over land use and taxes. Pray for the decision-makers, the neighbors, and for wisdom for church leaders.
- If another church faces zoning problems, support its efforts. Churches are in this issue together.
Church leaders must be savvy in zoning matters that could sour community relations. Maintaining good relationships with neighbors should be as high on a church's priority list as constructing a good building.
This post is adapted from an article the first appeared in Your Church magazine.
John R. Throop is a management consultant, freelance writer, and Episcopal clergyman.
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