Making the church building pay its way, part 0

There’s a charming old picture of the hoary Universalist church in Oxford, Massachusetts with retail space on its ground floor and the meeting-space above. Wise, that. Empty churches — by which I mean the buildings — are bad stewards no matter where or when they are, and these days a bad steward might kill the institution.

Rental income is a one option, but few can have a shop on the first floor. (Community Church, Boston is a conspicuous exception.) Weddings can be a blessing or a curse, depending on staff pressures. I have a hard time imagining meetings providing much money for most churches, and having a renting congregation is fraught with its own conditions. (More about that later.)

Sometimes people talk about a nursery or a school. But all the ancedotal evidence I have for this option makes it seem a poor choice. The school wears the building hard, demand too much of the staff, pay little, but increase the insurance liability and so forth. And besides, it seems to play into the oft-rehearsed delusion — as does weddings-as-savior — that church is really for people who grow up, get married, have kids and come back. What is this, the 1950s? (Single and child-free people get the message.)

So what other option is there? I have one in mind, now that I’ve set up the situation as I see it.

3 Replies to “Making the church building pay its way, part 0”

  1. Do tell, renting to another church works if they are willing to meet at a different time, and don’t want to own your building. Another faith? Jewish communities often do their child RE on Sunday mornings which is difficult. Muslims, often our buildings aren’t designed for their worship needs and both groups have dietary issues which may also preclude them using our space.

    Can’t wait to hear your ideas.

  2. The best way to have your building pay for itself is to have it so full of your own congregation’s activities that there are few slots left to rent out.

    My church just finished it’s annual garage sale. Raised > $13K (!). Last Sunday, I sent next a first-time visitor.

    “How did you come to find us?” I asked.

    “I came to the garage sale, looked around and decided to come back on Sunday.” She paged through the insert in the order of service that listed all the adult classes, the Covenant groups, the social events. “Wow, you’ve got so much going on… The church I came from, it was like Sunday morning service, at that’s all for the week.”

    Later during the service, Rev Matt Tittle asked anyone who was interested in finding out more about membership to come forward and light a candle. She did, and talked with him for about a half an hour.

    Seems to me, the best way to have a church building pay for itself is to use it to meet the needs and interests of members and visitors, so that they come to enthusiastically support the congregation.

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