Where does a new church gather for worship and other corporate functions? We’ve all heard of multiple creative spots—schools, theaters, restaurants are the most common. Many of us have experienced using a variety of spots in the early days. Our church plant met in 9 different spots in our first 4 months! Then we used a porta-church restaurant for 14 months, then a 24/7 leased space for 2 years, now a leased space we’ve modified many times over the last 15 years. Here are two more pros and cons to each arrangement, some more obvious than others.
3. Purchase and modify. In some cases, young churches especially can take advantage of existing structures that can be purchased for reasonable cost and retro-fitted for church use. This seems like the best of both worlds—a chance to minimize facility costs and yet have permanent space designed just for your church’s use. Some commercial buildings are owned by landlords who can do private financing—others can be funded through lending institutions and capital campaigns. Beware of taxation issues though—municipalities are not as anxious to grant tax exempt status in commercial or industrial zones. This can add many thousands of dollars to the facility cost compared to property where a church receives tax abatement.
4. Buy land, build buildings. This remains a predictable path for churches in the U.S. (except in center-cities) but is becoming less and less accessible as costs skyrocket and ministry philosophy trends to outreach, community service, glocal church planting, and other missional initiatives. Strengths of owning the property include freedom to design what you really want for your unique ministry and the opportunity to create a calling card for your entire region with the right location. Overcoming the urge to build too soon and too small seems to be widely accepted wisdom. Recognizing that some Christ-followers are more motivated by the tangible nature of a church building, there are still dollars in pockets that will build church facilities—maybe not as much as at times in the past.
Historically we know churches met house to house, in catacombs, in the temple courts, in the city gates, and, beginning sometime a few hundred years into church history, they started building buildings to use for worship. Then came hospitals, orphanages, schools, colleges and universities—all places where God’s kingdom is expressed. Yet no one argues that the church is incarnate, just like her Founder. So while there seems to be no “right” or “wrong” place for a church to gather, the Mission has and should guide the design. Bravo to the creative minds that lead churches to do and be what God has designed.