Church Rentals: Have Space Will Worship

Church

This is my pre-published version of an article I wrote for Christianity Today International’s Resources department. It is part of a larger downloadable study exploring Church rental issues. Here, with the help of a few friends, I consider the advantages and disadvantages of renting worship space.

The urban landscape is becoming increasingly crowded — and expensive. While churches have been moving out of the city to the suburbs, the cites have been growing. The North American Misssion Board reports that nearly 6 out of 10 Americans live in the 50 largest cities. And while establishing a new congregation in a populous city context poses many challenges, the lack of affordable space for church property is one of the most daunting. Purchasing facilities for worship in most large cities, especially for a church plant, is often impossible. Thus, renting space is often the only tenable option. But which option do you choose?

Advantages to Renting

  • Your ministry is “In the marketplace”
    As former urban churches grew larger and financially successful, many moved into the suburbs, creating a trend that left many cities without a significant ministry presence. Renting space allows you to keep your gathering place close to where people live and work.
  • Renting takes advantage of the familiar and comfortable
    As Mark Batterson, pastor of a theater church in Washington, DC, notes, “Thousands of people already feel comfortable coming to National Community Church because they’ve been to the theaters before. We are familiar to them.”
  • You avoid institutionalization
    Batterson notes that meeting in a rented theater helps keep his church feeling like a “movement,” and serves as a constant reminder that “church is not a building.”
  • You are mobile
    As your church grows, you simply move to a larger facility. This, however, is largely dependant on the length of your rental contract’s term.
  • Utilties included
    Depending on the lease, you don’t always have to cover utility expenses. Additionally, snow removal may be included if you rent a facility that’s already in use over the weekends, such as a theater church rental. However, if you rent from a school you will need to cover this cost yourself.
  • Setup and break-down builds teams
    While the time needed to set up and break-down before and after the service can be a disadvantage, Jon Cawston, who currently pastors a theater church plant in Naperville, Illinois, reports that this can be a valuable team-building ministry for men. After moving to permanent facility from a high school rental, Cawston noted, “many of the 40-50 people who set up and tore down really struggled to find their place of ministry because their team had been disbanded.”

Disadvantages to Renting

  • There’s not much you can change
    Your ability to permanently stage and modify your worship space can be severely dampened. You may not be able to stage productions and plays at all without using very minimal staging.
  • Your community may perceive you as transitory
    John Lindell, pastor of James River Assembly in Springfield, MO, has pastored in a variety of rental facilities and notes that Midwesterners, in particular, view churches in leased facilities as being temporary. However, this may not be as big an issue in larger metropolitan areas.
  • An army of volunteers not included
    Multi-use buildings, such as school auditoriums, require a lot of volunteers to setup and break-down before and after services. Lindell notes, if your church community includes a lot of children, providing facilities and equipment for early childhood and elementary school children can be difficult.
  • No Equity
    What’s true for families is also true for churches: by renting you’re not investing in your own properties equity. However, this can still work to your advantage if strike a least-to-own arrangement.

Other Churches

  • Churches are multi-use, too
    The cost of renting a church may be cheaper than most other forms of leasing and renting. You get the added benefits of low-overhead, multi-use facilities, classrooms, and facilities for children’s ministries.
  • Communicates you’re here to stay
    Renting space in a local church helps communicate that your minister is here for the long haul. If you’re in a conservative community, this can be a positive sign. If you’re in a more diverse and metropolitan community, it could also work against you.
  • Church baggage included
    One potential negative about renting space in a church is that members of your community may have emotional connections and associations with the church where you’re meeting. While you may risk “guilt by association,” you may also benefit from the church’s positive local standing. It pays to know the local history of the church you plan to rent from.

Auditoriums

  • Time keeps slipping away
    Jon Cawston, a theather-church pastor, notes that timelines can becaome a negative factor. Because his congregation meets in a theather, they have to be out by 11:15 — before the movies start. Whle this could pose problems for relationship-building, he notes: “On the other hand if you are totally dependent on your foyer to build relationships, you may be in trouble anyways.”
  • Equipment issues
    Renting from schools provides you built-in classroom space (if your lease allows it), which can be a boon for Christian education ministries. However, theaters won’t have facilities for these “extras.” Seating won’t be a problem if you rent from a theater or auditorium with built-in seating. But if you rent from a school or auditorium, you’ll be stuck with foldable or stackable seating that must be set up and put away for each service. In most cases you’ll need your own sound and projection system, and you’ll need to choose rugged equipment since the constant setup and tear-down will wear your equipment out faster. Plus, in theater settings you may need to provide additional lighting, since theaters are designed to be dimly lit and have no windows.
  • Property issues
    School settings not only provide you additional classrooms and furnishings, but they also have custodial staff which keep the gounds clean, saving you a lot of money on janitorial and grounds maintenance. Note, however, that if you rent a school you have to provide snow removal because schools are under no obligation to be cleared on the weekends.
  • Less fear, uncertainty, and doubt
    Jon Cawston notes that not only are theaters and school auditoriums well known and easily found by your community, “People don’t have to be afraid of going in because they already know what to expect. They’ve been there before.” Church buildings, though, can be a little scary for the unchurched urbanites.

Retail / Commercial Space

  • Lease to own
    Unlike actively used theaters and already occupied churches, unused commercial and retail space may be available for lease-to-own arrangements. Mars Hill church had been in several locations and needed a permanent church home when a property advisor helped them find an unused hardware store they could move into. By structuring a lease-to-own contract, they were able to move into a permanent property much faster than normal. An additional benefit is that Mars Hill now has a valuable piece of property that can be re-converted into a retail facility very easily for the next buyer.
  • Doesn’t feel like church
    The most common complaint about a storefront or retail space rental is that they are so non-traditional that churchgoers may not feel like they are “in church.” This could be positive or negative depending on the expectations of your community.
  • Fewer accessability issues
    Churches meeting in commercial and retail space (as well as public auditoriums and theaters) don’t have to worry about providing handicapped-accessible access: the law already required the property owner to provide those features.

Final considerations

Renting property can be seen as an entirely pragmatic and cost-effective decision. But whether you rent or own should be primarily driven by the providence of God. As Jon Cawston notes:

“You can only step through doors God opens for you. Some churches rent, some buy, but whether renting is a pro or con is really only limited God’s direction. I have been in both scenarios: both rental properties and multimillion dollar facilities. All had their unique challenges but it was what God provided.”

Rich

(Note: This is the pre-edited article included in a pay-per-download article provided by Christianity Today International, available for purchase here ($12.95). The full download contains six other articles. Though I was once employed by Christianity Today, I do not personally benefit from any transactions through these sites.)

[tags]blogrodent, christianity-today-international, church, church-rental, cti, evotional, james-river, james-river-assembly, john-lindel, jon-cawston, mark-batterson, published, rental, renting, rich-tatum, rock-creeck, stewardship, theater-church, theatre-church, urban-church, worship-space, writing, religion, christianity, evangelical[/tags]

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6 Responses to Church Rentals: Have Space Will Worship

  1. Rich, I’d be interested to hear about the conversation you had with CT before you posted this. At least, I assume there was a conversation. Perhaps they only purchased non-exclusive rights?

  2. Rich says:

    Hi, Mark!

    No conversation necessary. My work-for-hire agreement states:

    PUBLISHER agrees that AUTHOR may publish the WORK on AUTHOR’S own website.

    I just can’t publish it or sell it anywhere else. However, what CTI used was about 50% of what I submitted since the other half was already covered adequately in the other articles.

    Rich

  3. Great post.

    My church meets in a relatively sparse comedy club in Bethnal Green (East London – UK). We love it and it really helps to put people that have never been to a church before at ease. It is also a place that most of the locals will know.

    Thankfully we now have a smoking ban in the UK so that got rid of one of the problems of worshiping when the room smelt of smoke!

  4. Thanks, Rich! That makes a lot of sense.

  5. Great post and blog. We are a church plant with a central campus and now in process of opening a satellite campus. This article was very informative and gave us a lot of things to think about.

    Also, just curious — I wonder if you ever have the same frustration as I do? As a pastor of a large church, I have close to 1,000 readers a day on my blog, but still have a very low authority on Technorati. I’ve learned that this is because I don’t have enough links to my site.

    I was wondering if you would be willing to put in a link exchange with me at robsingleton.net. If so, please send me an email to robtherev[at]gmail.com showing me where you’ve linked it and I will do the same.

    Look forward to hearing from you!

    Rob Singleton

  6. Rich says:

    @David:

    Thanks for your comment, David. Wow … your church meets in a comedy club! I can only imagine the number of jokes that has spawned! You might be interested in a post I wrote earlier comparing churches and bars: "What’s Different? Church vs. Bar." I think it’s great you’re meeting in a comedy club, it makes my head spin to think about but I hope you’re having great success in your outreach.

    @Mark:

    Thanks, Mark, for stopping by! I’m glad you liked the post.

    @Rob:

    Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the kudos on the article. I’m delighted you found it helpful in any way!

    Regarding your blog, you have a lot more readers than I do, for sure. You also have more subscribers than I do. According to Technorati, you also have more authority than I do:

    BlogRodent | Authority: 65, Rank: 112,625
    RobSingleton.net | Authority: 87, Rank: 79,365

    So, you have 87 blog-sites pointing to you, and I have 65. There are ways to increase that number, for sure, and exchanging links is one way to do it. (Thanks for the offer, by the way.) Writing compelling stuff is the other way to do it, and perhaps better. After all, you have to convince someone to link to you from their blogroll, and many bloggers get a little resistant to doing that since their blogroll reflects their reading tastes (usually, anyhow). Plus, if you’re too eager to get links you may wind up sending the wrong message to your readership anyhow?— I assume that a blogger’s blogroll reflects his taste and style. That leads me to believe that if I like a particular blogger, I might like his blogroll links, too. Unfortunately, the indiscriminate linker winds up leading me down rabbit trails, so once I realize that’s the case, I won’t even investigate the links. And that can backfire, because you lose a little credibility when that happens.

    In short, persuading others to put you on their blogroll can backfire in terms of readership loyalty and trust. I wouldn’t mess with trust because if a reader digs you, they’ll keep coming back for more. And if your reader is a fellow blogger, you’ll wind up getting linked to from a post anyhow.

    For more on blog promotion strategy, see my posts 39 Tips to Improve Weblog Traffic and Visibility and "Why Julie Blogs: On writers, writing, and blogging well".

    Keep up the good work!

    Rich

    PS: By the way, I do maintain a large list of Pentecostal & Charismatic bloggers here. If you belong on that list as a P/C blogger, let me know, I’ll add you!

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