You might be surprised that this issue really exists in churches.
It really does in a lot of churches.
In fact, it is so bad in many churches that the junk takes up valuable room for ministry, small groups, and offices. In our consultations with churches, we often ask them where they keep their donated broken upright pianos. Church leaders are usually surprised we ask that question because it is a pain point for them.
One church showed us an upright piano in a men’s room. I am not kidding.
Church members sadly can use the church to store things they no longer want. They call it a “donation.”
Matt McCraw, one of our Church Answers team members, actually has a process to dispose of junk in his church. I have never seen such a process in writing, so I thought I would share it with you.
- If something is obviously trash, we just throw it out. For instance, if no one donated it, it’s broken, it’s smelly, or something like that.
- We chose a room where we put stuff that we think needs to be thrown out or given away, but there may be a question about it. We let it sit there for a while in case someone’s deceased grandmother donated it. If they get upset that it’s missing, we simply tell them that we have it and we’ll be glad to get it back to them. Among our staff, we call this room “purgatory.”
- If something has been in “purgatory” for six months or more, I ask the properties team chairman if we can give it away or throw it out. I tell him that the item has not been used in many months/years.
- Sometimes some things need to sit longer than others, depending on how much of a sacred cow they are. Our church is nearly 150 years old, so we’ve collected a lot.
- I’ve also learned to ask a few key people if they have any personal items in rooms that we’re clearing out just in case they want them.
Thanks, Matt, for these insights. I am adding to your title at Church Answers, “chief administrator for junk disposal,” with the hopes that you will keep me around. By the way, “purgatory” is an incredible name for junk-in-waiting.
Posted on May 15, 2023
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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Old technology equipment is a particular issue. For one, it shouldn’t be tossed in the dumpster due to environmental issues. If the equipment has data storage, it should be erased securely or destroyed prior to getting rid of it.
But it’s also hard to get out of the building because there’s always someone on staff that thinks it might be helpful to have some old gear “for parts.”
I’ve walked into Mansy a server room to find a box of someone’s 10 year old computers and home network gear in the middle of the floor. We don’t need it. The church aren’t operating in a time warp from 10 years ago. And it’s expensive to properly dispose of it.
It’s good practice to train your front desk team to say “thanks but no thanks” when someone show up with a box of garbage.
I volunteered to clean out the library so that there is room for the religious books my husband and I are donating to the church. Musical books.
I am the choir director. The choir room has become the storage room for whatever can’t find a home–probably because I will through it away regardless of who gave it. There are old computer monitors, old church furniture and dusty fake bushes in the choir room right now. In fact there is an upright piano that is in there, too. Several years ago we stopped accepting furniture/gifts that belonged to people that wanted the church to have it. Once we had a plant someone gifted the church which was a scraggly, spindly 15 foot tall indoor tree from some members moving out of town. The plant was unfortunately damaged when moving it to its final resting place. We still have very formal chairs at the front of the church that were given by a family over 20 years ago that left the church because we moved them out of the sanctuary.
Gotta love the upright pianos.
I was involved in a new church plant in the mid-1980s, one of several new works in which I have been involved in the past 35 odd years. Church members and attendees are not the only people who donate items to a church that are broken, useless, and beyond repair. So do other churches in the same denomination. The new church was an Episcopal and the congregation used prayer books and hymnals in its services. When you start a new church, you want to put your best foot forward. One of your aims is to create a good impression with potential church members and attendees. This aim was lost on the churches making “donations” to the new church. They used it as a dumping ground for their old, torn, dog-eared, finger-stained prayer books and hymnals. Some had their covers falling off. Early in the life of the new church we adopted a donations policy. I chaired the donations committee at the time. If church member or attendee wanted to donate something to the church, we sat them down with a list of things that the church needed and helped them select one or more items. They then purchased the item or items, brand new, from the recommended source and donated them to the church. We adopted a similar policy with other churches in the same denomination. We suggested that they could be most helpful to the new church by either donating a sum of money with no strings attached, which the new church could use at its own discretion, or they could purchase new items for the new church in consultation with the new church and based upon its needs. For example, they could make a one time grant to the new church or purchase boxes of brand new prayer books and hymnals for the new church. In this way we reduced (but did not eliminate) the unwanted donations. The pastor did accept an ornate wooden lectern, a collection of uncomfortable straight back wooden chairs, a collection of white enamel floor candle stand for weddings, and a black stylized wooden image of the Virgin Mary. But for the most part we were able to keep this kind of donation to a minimum. Among the things that I learned is that if a church adopts a donation policy, it needs to consistently apply it and all individuals in a position to accept donations of any kind need to agree fully to the policy with no exceptions!
I like addressing the problem on the front end with a donation policy. Thanks for sharing, Robin.
One of the hardest choices in this category is what to do with the choral library if the church hasn’t had a choir and has no hopes or plans of having one in the future. As a choral musician, I have been heartbroken to see valuable literature simply thrown on the trash heap. But, it is true, there is a lot of dated and mediocre or poor literature in church choral libraries. Perhaps most of it would be in that category. The last church I served had a library that needed to be disposed of but I never got around to it. I was going to cull the best pieces out and try and find a “home” for that literature. But it never got done. Hard to find churches with choral programs anymore.
My inaction is symptomatic of the cluttering problem, I suppose.
At least you are pondering the situation, Bob.
Some churches do have choirs and may welcome additional material for their choral library. They may, however, belong to a different church tradition and denomination than yours. Some high school and university music departments may also welcome additional material. They have choruses and may sing religious pieces as well as secular ones. I would suggest cataloging what material you have and posting a list on Facebook and other social media too. In searching YouTube and Vimeo for worship music, traditional, contemporary, and global, I often come across inquiries about where the sheet music for a particular hymn, worship song, psalm, or anthem may be obtained. If you are a member of a local association, deanery, or district, you might consider establishing a choral music depository for the churches in that network of churches.
Resource: https://www.themusiclibrary.com/ Buys & Sells old church music on consignment.