Many of our congregations have renters in their buildings who help them pay the bills. Some of those congregations are under the impression that the mission of the renters = the mission of the church. This is not necessary so.
I once served a church who started a computer training program for undereducated adults. They set up their own 501c3 but they were a mission of our church. They never paid rent. We were not using them to help support the church. The church chose to support them because they helped the neighbors in extraordinary ways.
We have countless churches today who rent space to everyone from non-profit offices to Girl Scouts to training classes to other (often immigrant) congregations, and then they claim the mission of those organizations as one of their own mission projects. The truth is that they have no relationship with those organizations except that they help pay for the utilities or salaries.
Churches that pay for their ministries via renters are dying congregations. Yes, that’s a sweeping generalization, but I believe it’s true. It’s one thing to discern a need in the neighborhood and then serve that need by establishing a non-profit. It’s quite another thing to find renters (even if we call them “partners”) who help pay the mortgage/utlities with whom we have no real relationship much less a partnership.
Mainline congregations have property. We might not have growing churches, viable ministries, healthy communities, or equipped congregations for a 21st Century mission, but we have real estate. And often that property has faulty heating and dated plumbing. The location might or might not be in an enviable location. But we need help to keep those properties.
What is the future of spiritual communities with large buildings? Often they are historic spaces. Sometimes they are merely dated spaces in failing neighborhoods. Even if there are active congregations still using those spaces, the neighbors often believe that those churches are closed.
Are we willing to let go of those buildings? Can we acknowledge that we can no longer sustain those spaces? Is it a mistake to sell the buildings?
I’d love to know what you think? Does your congregation rent space to other organizations? And do you know each other?