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Are Empty Church Buildings a Thing of the Past?

To our readers: This post will be more helpful for those church leaders whose buildings remain empty most days of the week except for Wednesday nights and Sundays.

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Sundays and Wednesdays

Church buildings come in all shapes and sizes and one thing many of them have in common way too often is their emptiness. A lot of small to medium sized church buildings are left empty except for Sunday worship services and Wednesday night classes. Occasionally, the church buildings will fill up on a Saturday for a festive wedding and then a funeral happens every so often and there is that 3-5 day period each summer when the building is used for vacation Bible school.

With congregations facing more and more people exiting through the back door and fewer people walking through the front door to replace those members, some churches are seeking to show themselves as relevant to their communities, however, the number of these congregations is not nearly large enough. But kudos do go out to those who try to reach what Dr. David T. Olson of The American Church Project estimates as the 85% of unchurched Americans that surround our church buildings, our church buildings which are unused (on the average) over half the time.

We Can’t Do That

I recently posted on Facebook a question about churches and how they present themselves to their communities on days that aren’t Sunday or Wednesday. I was overwhelmed by the amount of responses I received. A couple answers presented reasons why some churches do not engage their communities by offering their building to outside groups.

The first reason raised was fear. Some churches simply are afraid of what might happen in their building, especially if they let “those people” in the doors. If you aren’t familiar with the fortress mentality seen within some churches, you are blessed. But there are congregations who are afraid that if they let people inside their buildings, such as drug addicts at Narcotics Anyonymous meetings or alcoholics at AA meetings or any person with a problem who may seek help at a Celebrate Recovery meeting, that trouble will ensue. That fear may include theft, weapons brought onto the property, etc. Fear does keep some congregations from actively engaging their community within the four walls of their often empty church buildings.

The second reason raised was a cousin of fear, this problem is called liability. What happens if someone trips or falls and then sues the church? That is a logical concern and I’m sure we can all, as ministers, find some Bible verse to say, “Hey, don’t worry, if you’re doing the work of Jesus, everything will be just fine.” Sometimes, even though we shouldn’t have to have it, we feel we need more than just re-reading Matthew 6:28-34 to be assured of that.

Here’s a little bit more material assurance for those church leaders who want to do good for others but might have that liability fear lurking in the background. Facility Use Agreements. You may be able to get these anywhere, but through a quick Google search, I found one offered by Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company. You can download a PDF form of a Facility Use Agreement from their site. Read this entire article and you’ll see the link.

Basically, insurance companies realize engaging the community is part of doing church. Just make sure your church has a good liability or umbrella policy. Your insurance agent should be able to easily help you with this.

A Growing Trend?

I was overwhelmed by the many ministers who shared what their congregations do in the midst of their communities. The ministers who responded were from small towns and big cities. For example, Preaching Minister Patrick Barber of East Point Church of Christ in Wichita shared that one of their members offers yoga classes to the community on Monday nights. On Tuesday the East Point congregation offers a Ladies’ Day where homemade Teddy Bears are sewn and then given away to newborns at the hospital. They also host a quarterly Red Cross blood drive and a monthly basketball night.

Danny Dodd, minister at The Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock listed how his church building is used outside of typical worship times. “There are AA meetings; Upwards basketball–as well as practice for other kid’s basketball and soccer teams; the building is used as a polling place; daily preschool; it’s a graduation site for the area “Youth Challegne” program; area businesses use the building when they need larger group training facilities. We also hold Dynamic Marriage classes; Dave Ramsey classes; Boy Scout meetings; and we offer our building as a site for home school conferences and classes.

There are many other ways church buildings can be used by local residents and outside groups. The following were offered as examples of what churches are currently doing: offering space for Spanish congregations, Chinese dance classes, SAT/ACT tutoring, business networking meetings, testing for online charter schools, daily daycare, home owner association meetings, free health clinics and health screenings, a business center to train people looking for work, ESL classes, parenting workshops, marriage seminars, physical therapy, high school football team feedings and moms play groups.

Dreams

A concept some churches have undertaken is helping members of their local community with fulfilling their dreams. What could be more relevant than helping people use the talents God gave them to pursue their goals and dreams? Churches do this currently by offering training to help enhance work skills but this could also be done via writing workshops for aspiring writers and entrepreneurial workshops for budding start up founders. These types of workshops can typically cost up to $100 per person depending on the presenter. You as a church could fill your empty building on a Saturday and help fulfill the dreams of a budding entrepreneur or an aspiring writer. If you are in a large city, you may get 50 to 60 people to take advantage of the workshop you offer. If you are in a smaller town, you should expect to get 20-30 people to attend the workshop, maybe more. It all depends on your pre-workshop publicity. And remember, about 80% of the group that visits your building that day could be unchurched.

There is no guarantee people in your community will visit your building on Sunday simply because they visited on a Saturday to receive some writing or entrepreneurial tips or to give blood or to take part in a parenting seminar. At least they will know your congregation is trying its best to be relevant by caring about those people in the community surrounding the building.

What Are Your Experiences?

Does your congregation open its doors to outside organizations in your community? Has it helped your congregation be better known to the community? Do any of your members dislike outsiders coming into “their” church building?

I look forward to your thoughts.

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