8 tips for making the most of your church’s space

SUMMARY: Maximize using your church’s facilities. Find new ways to use your sanctuaries, libraries, common rooms, fellowship halls and offices.

Opening your doors to the community can do two things. First, you expand your congregation’s role in the community. Second, you might help the church’s bottom line. Here are eight ideas to get you started.

  1. Begin.
    Involve your congregation before opening your facility doors. Seek their ideas, address concerns and work together to create a facility-use plan that meets a variety of needs. Appoint a church employee to oversee the facility schedule.

  2. Think big.
    Does your church have an unused (or rarely used) gym, auditorium or other large space? Is your church interested in expanding? Does it lack the necessary funds? Consider creating a community recreation center and renting it periodically to community sports leagues or for recreational classes.

  3. Rent rooms.
    Many churches already do this, but most can do it more successfully by expanding their marketing. Some possibilities include:
  • Advertise room rentals on your Web site. Include costs and an up-to-date calendar, if possible. Make sure to identify how many people each room can accommodate and the various set-up styles available (theater, round tables, etc.).
  • Hold an open house for leaders of your community’s nonprofit, charitable, educational and arts organizations to tour the available spaces.
  • Put rental fliers on public bulletin boards in bookstores, cafes and supermarkets.
  • Advertise space availability on your church’s  Facebook page.
  • Post an ad on Craigslist.com. Although it is a national site, it is divided into geographical areas. Listings are free.
  1. Host a food pantry.
    Few tasks are more basic to a church’s mission than helping to feed the hungry. Start a food pantry or give space to a community pantry. Central Community United Methodist Church of Shell Knob, Mo., hosts a two-days-a-week pantry sponsored by its community alliance of churches. Food pantries require ongoing space to store donations and pickup space to distribute food.

  2. Start a thrift or SOS store.
    Convert an unused storage room into a store that church volunteers staff weekly or monthly. Congregation and community members can donate gently used household items, toys and clothes. Your church can decide whether you want to have a thrift store—reselling items to raise money for the church or a particular ministry— or an SOS store—a facility that offers low-income families the chance to “shop” without charge. The latter may be a good option for churches with food-assistance programs as participation requirements already are established.

  3. Share space.
    When the single Sunday morning service ended at Cove United Methodist Church, Lakewood, Ohio, the worship sanctuary sat silent. Now, it comes alive later in the morning when the Lakewood Christian Church, which sold its building recently, holds its services. As churches of all denominations face declining congregations and increasing costs, sharing service space can make sense in the right situations. Such decisions should involve members from the host church, and both congregations should outline each other’s rights and responsibilities in a formal, written agreement.

  4. Incubate.
    Identify nonprofits that need office space in your community but cannot afford to pay much. Rent offices at below-market rates or provide space free. Serving as a home to a nonprofit can create a lasting relationship with all individuals involved. Your church’s space is one of your best tools for reaching out to the community and fulfilling your mission. Start talking and planning now to maximize your presence.

  5. Talk to counsel.
    Options may involve bringing in groups outside your congregation. It’s a good idea to consult an attorney—perhaps a member of the congregation—regarding legal or tax consequences of renting space. In this “Just Ask” online forum, a tax attorney responds to an inquiry about endangering the church’s exempt status if it rents space. While he gives a quick response, consulting an attorney who is familiar with your church is critical. Your attorney or insurance adviser also can identify your liability and protection if someone gets injured at your facility and what steps you can take to minimize your liability.
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