Locked Out–Rethinking Church Use of Space

Wow, times are tough!

The virus is resurging. Churches are closing. Pastors are quitting. And many congregations find themselves locked out of the place they used to rent.

An Acts 8 Crisis

Maybe we shouldn’t look at these as tough times, but more like normal. Jesus never told us it would be easy—in fact, he promised persecution. We certainly aren’t being persecuted. Instead, this could be an Acts 8 moment, minus the persecution. Maybe God is trying to move us off stasis. We might be as surprised as the folks in Jerusalem when they discovered gentiles worshipping in Antioch or those other people in Caesarea.

We all know it’s time to make disciples and multiply churches like we haven’t done for decades. In fact, comparing stats shows that 94 percent of Americans self-identified as Christian in 1950 compared to just 68 percent today. And those people checking “None” for religious preference in 1950 comprised just five percent of the population. Today that figure is 20 percent. During those seven decades, Protestants in America have shrunken from 66 percent of the pie to just 37 percent today. We’ve lost nearly half the ground we once held.

Land use is a problem. Cities resent the fact that churches pay no property tax. Community spaces that were open to us pre-pandemic increasingly refuse outside renters due to the virus. It’s time for creativity if we expect to turn the tide of shrinkage into a growing movement.

Some Workable Ideas

A friend in Tokyo planted a church in a park, in August. There was a typhoon that day. The new congregation huddled under umbrellas as they did 18 months later in a snowstorm. That was the final meeting in the park, just before they moved the church into a bar. Summer, winter, rain, heat and cold that congregation met in a park. A church in Kobe, Japan met in a labor union hall after being kicked out of a school over a conflict between Christianity and a Buddhist administrator. They later rented a small office space holding several meetings on a Sunday.

One church meets in coffee shops, after hours. The owners can’t be too afraid of the virus as they are open for business during the daytime. Others meet in waiting rooms at automotive garages or even in a doctor’s office. Space is there if you’re willing to think outside the norm.

If you own, or otherwise control, church space you should think about renting to churches that have none. One friend leads a congregation that uses its campus three times each Sunday—they also host four other churches representing different doctrinal persuasions and nationalities. If you need a place to meet, and haven’t yet, go knock on doors at different churches in your vicinity.

Smaller Could Be Better

Finally, think about this. Smaller is often more intimate and possibly better. You could always rent, or lease, commercial or industrial space that might appear too small for your church. Just hold “Sunday services” several times during a week. A church I pastored repeated its service seven times each weekend. Preaching teams, simplified worship with different leaders in each meeting and a cup of coffee could make the unworkable do just fine.

So, what do you know that can help the rest of us? Who is doing something creative or clever that another person might be able to learn from? Please take three minutes to jot your advice in the comments box. Long ago it became apparent that the people reading this blog tend to be disruptive, innovative thinkers. We’d all love your thoughts and ideas!