Eight Ways to Make Portable Sustainable

Let’s be honest, doing church in a portable environment is a pain. Whether you have three volunteers and one trailer or several 18-wheelers and a cast of hundreds it is hard to face setting up and tearing down, setting up and tearing down, setting up and tearing down weekend after weekend after weekend. Then there’s the added challenge of not having space during the week for counseling, training and connection. No wonder your own building becomes the Holy Grail.

Let’s look at some ways you can make portable sustainable.

  • Realize you have meeting space now
    While you may don’t have Sunday School rooms or a fellowship hall, you do have living rooms, clubhouses, Starbucks, hotel meeting rooms, as well as other churches who are often willing to loan (or rent) space during the week. There are plenty of rooms available, they just belong to someone else.
  • Lease an office space with a small to medium size meeting room
    This will give you a “permanent” home that is much cheaper than a full blown church building. Now you have an office to work out of and you have space for leadership development and small connection events. With the economic downturn you may be able to lease space for a very reasonable amount, and in many situations you can tap into their existing phone and wireless networks.
  • Make sure have multiple teams for set up and tear down
    Ideally you will have several set up and tear down teams. Each team should not serve more than twice a month, and your children’s ministry team should not set up or tear down. (Or you will be on never ending hunt for new children’s workers) Multiple teams is a non-negotiable.
  • Select the right team leaders
    Often pastors will select an engineer/administrator/laborer as leader of the setup/tear down teams. While this type of leader will get the job done and get it done efficiently, they will struggle keeping the teams engaged and motivated. You want a coach, a people person, a team builder. Let the engineer draw the plan and arrange the trailer, but make sure the team leader is the guy everyone wants to be around. This is huge if you want to make portable sustainable. Finding the right setup/tear down leader is as important as finding the right worship leader if you’re in this for the long haul.
  • Honor the setup and tear down teams
    As a pastor make sure the teams know they are appreciated. Take care of the team leaders. Make sure there is budget money for team parties. At a church I visited in Hawaii (where they will never have their own building) they have a volunteer who arrives at 5:00 a.m. every Sunday morning to cook breakfast for the setup crew. He brings his own grill and cooks an amazing breakfast. That is his ministry and he loves it. How can you let the teams know how important they are to the core mission of the church?
  • Build community into the teams
    A setup or tear down team is makes a great men’s small group. Guys are more comfortable doing a task together than sitting in a living room sharing their feelings.  An effective way to build community is for the guys to go to breakfast together after they finish setting up. They then have time to run home and pick up the family to attend church. Community is the destination; setting up equipment is the vehicle. Your set up and tear down teams could become your biggest evangelistic outreach to men.
  • Create a path for advancement
    One church that was portable for many years created an entire hierarchy for the setup team. When you first volunteered you would be put on a chair setup team for section three. Eventually you could work your way up to chair section leader, chair setup leader, auditorium setup leader, first weekend setup leader, first weekend setup and tear down leader, and eventually Director of Setup and Tear Down. Men like to have a chance to advance and a clear path to run on.
  • Hire the setup/tear down crew
    If your teams are exhausted and you’re running out of ideas, start hiring part of the crew. Pay high school or college students a few dollars a week to do the heavy lifting. It might seem expensive, but it will be way cheaper than buying a building. Trust me.

These are just eight ideas I have come across in working with portable congregations over the past ten years. What ideas have you tried that has made portable sustainable for your church?

Photo by PortableChurch