Sarah Strosahl-Kagi knew when she accepted the call to pastor Royersford Baptist Church that the congregation was in trouble.
There was no immediate crisis. The 1960s-era building with its floor-to-ceiling stained-glass windows was in relatively good shape. Its members — many retired from the mission field — were devoted and active.
But the 144-year-old congregation, an hour’s drive from Philadelphia, had dwindled down to about 100 members, and even fewer in worship. The cost of maintaining a building on five acres of land was consuming an ever greater share of the church’s budget.
Her job, Strosahl-Kagi knew when she was appointed pastor in 2020, was to guide the church toward its next chapter.
Helping the congregation manage change has become as much a part of her everyday responsibilities as delivering the Sunday sermon or providing pastoral care.
First came the process of exploring the church’s options. With the help of Sympara, the church entered into an eight-month discernment process in 2021, emerging with a vision to construct on its undeveloped land an estimated 45 workforce homes and condos — for individuals and families who work in and around Royersford but can’t afford to live there.
Building a more equitable future for its underserved neighbors has given the church “an opportunity to dream together and be excited about the future and where God is leading us,” Strosahl-Kagi said.
But in the short-term, the project has also added a new level of anxiety.
Here are the ways Strosahl-Kagi has managed that anxiety:
Wait until everyone is on board: The discernment committee met via Zoom with Sympara Cofounder and CEO Daniel Pryfogle over the course of eight months. Some were excited about the proposed housing project, others hesitant. “We had one particular member who was willing but skeptical,” Strosahl-Kagi said. “The turning point came when she told us how hopeful she felt.” When the whole church met in January 2022, the vote to move forward with the project was unanimous.
Dream big: Develop a sense of curiosity about the community around the church and seek out new ways to be of service to that community. “We’ve allowed ourselves to imagine a different reality, both for our congregation and community. We’ve been open to how God could work through that.”
Have faith: A lot about Royersford Baptist Church's future is still unknown. Will the church sell the land on its periphery or lease it? How long will the construction take? What will it end up looking like? Trust that God will lead, said Strosahl-Kagi, even when the full picture is still looking dim.
And finally: Have patience. It’s a long process. Already, the church has invested two years in planning. Another two years is likely before the workforce housing is built.
Yonat Shimron is an award-winning religion reporter and senior editor for Religion News Service. She is a former board member for Sympara.