Church Clutter

New Year, Clean Slate!

Clutter-free spaces communicate hospitality. The hotel industry understands this. Unfortunately, many churches don’t.

I’m on my way to a “Clean Up Day” at my church. I’m still quite new there — since Labor Day — and the church basement is in reasonably good shape. Still, it’s always good to sift through the flotsam and jetsam. Cleaning up is a good way to learn the church’s history, both formal and informal. I’ll take some “before” pictures of closets, although I expect it will be weeks before I have “after” pictures.

Meanwhile, I’ll repost an article I wrote a few years ago — to draw the connection between clutter and hospitality in church settings, and why I prioritize uncluttering.


The pulpit shelves hold several burned-out candle lighters — although everyone knows they are trash.

The library has Christian Education curriculum from 1973– which is considered “still good” because it was never used.

Somewhere in the balcony there’s a stack of “Christmas Joy” envelopes which might have been printed the year Jesus turned two.

When the office light bulbs burn out you ask the Administrative Assistant to run to the store, because who can find anything in that disaster of a supply closet?

The pastor’s office? Well, let’s just say that “paperless” doesn’t describe it.

It’s easy for church space to become cluttered. So many people share church space, and who’s in charge of keeping it clean? Unless your church is blessed with adequate custodial staff (which is a rarity), chances are that your physical space needs attention.

Clutter tells every person who enters: this space doesn’t really matter.

Clutter tells church volunteers: good luck finding what you need! It’s easier to just buy more.

Clutter tells the clergy: Hey there, take care of me! Hey there, I’m over here! Hey there, are you going to finish what you started? Hey . . .

Clutter speaks. It shouts and confuses and distracts. What is your church clutter saying?

Sometimes clergy think that we are like Jesus, too preoccupied with “things above” to worry about things on earth. Our precious energy goes to more important agendas: babies to welcome, grieving people to comfort, new neighbors to evangelize, pithy thoughts to tweet, bulletins to prepare. Who has time to worry about church clutter?

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. ~ Jesus, Matthew 6:19-21.

Some people might think this verse is a reason to ignore earthly “stuff” but I take it in quite the opposite direction. To me, Jesus acknowledges that material possessions matter because they occupy our minds as well as our physical space.

Our stuff is not our treasure, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. Ignoring clutter only invites it to multiply, to loom larger than it should, and to become actively negative. If you’ve ever dealt with a moth infestation in your winter clothes, or a shelf full of mildewed books, you know that Jesus wasn’t talking in pretty metaphors with “moth and rust”. Stuff can literally rot.

How does your church handle its clutter? Often we let the “lowest common denominator” rule. Every church has a few saints who, in the name of thrift, see a potential use for every item. God bless them! However, unnecessary items only impede ministry. This is true, even if we’re not consciously aware of the dynamic.

I have served four churches and they have all had significant clutter issues. It took time and energy to clear the clutter. Afterward, we felt the relief that comes with clear, clean space. People would remark that things were “looking better around here” even if they didn’t know exactly why. Open space opens the heart. Open space creates a sense of hospitality and welcome.

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I'm an essayist, memoirist, and Presbyterian pastor. My books are both spiritual memoirs -- "Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land" and "Ruined."