SPACE-SHARING BY CONGREGATIONS, INSTALLMENT 2
Benefits of Space-Sharing
An online forum contributing to a research project by Dr. Paul Numrich, professor in the Snowden Chair for the Study of Religion and Interreligious Relations
Space-sharing is sometimes perceived as strictly business — think of an older congregation increasing its income by renting to a newer congregation or a community group. However, national surveys suggest that rental income is not very important to most congregations. In one survey, less than one-fourth (22.3 percent) of the congregations answered “Yes” to the question, “During your most recent fiscal year, did your congregation receive any income from the rent of your building or property?” About the same number (25.5 percent) in another survey reported rental charges as one of the largest sources of congregational income.
These national surveys do not tell us how many congregations charge rent for the use of their facilities, but we can safely say that space-sharing is not always about the money. Consider some non-financial benefits of space-sharing for both parties:
- Benefits to the congregation that owns the space: fulfilling its mission, helping to develop its identity, sound stewardship of facilities, neighborliness, contributing to the good of the larger community.
- Benefits to the group that uses the space: fulfilling its mission, networking, enhanced status through affiliating with an established congregation. Such benefits can be especially important for new immigrant groups in American communities.
You're invited to contribute to this forum by emailing Dr. Numrich and describing the financial and non-financial benefits of a space-sharing arrangement you know about.
Selected contributions to this online forum will be posted and may be edited for content. (When responding, please indicate whether you prefer to be named or remain anonymous.) By contributing to this forum, you agree to these conditions.
The next installment of the Space-Sharing by Congregations online forum will consider conflicts over shared space.
Rev. Mark Harvey, New Covenant and Zion UMCs, St. Louis, Missouri:
My personal feeling is that as the landscape keeps changing for churches, with so many of us in large buildings fighting to cover the overhead costs, and others deciding they can do so no longer, it just makes economic sense to share space. My further hope is that down the road this can also translate into sharing of ministry. But I am not naive. Trained in sociology and social psychology, I understand tribalism and territoriality. I learned in one situation that sharing a facility between THREE congregations had its advantages over the polarization of a dual share. Sharing a large building between even more might help us redefine ecumenicity for a new age. A challenge for some pastors might be theological differences and the denominational culture differences they can produce. I just happen to be highly tolerant of such, more than many of my United Methodist colleagues.
Now we are negotiating with a young man who is a lifelong United Methodist, born and raised in The Democratic Republic of the Congo. His parents are United Methodist missionaries in The Cameroons. He is seminary-trained. He went through United Methodist candidacy and chose NOT to get ordained. I detect some of the typical millennials’ anti-institutional resistance. But his proven strengths are clearly in worship and pastoral ministry, and he has evangelistic passion. He wants to start a new congregation, though NOT United Methodist. We are exploring whether or not we will allow this in our facility, as an autonomous group “renting” space. One of the issues for me is whether or not to allow them to serve sacraments. It seems to me that if I do, we are de facto declaring them a bona fide “church.” As the pastor in charge, is this decision my domain? I'm not sure. He will preach for us October 15 and the Church Council will decide afterward whether or not to allow the trustees to negotiate a contract.
Barb Anderson, interfaith outreach facilitator at Dublin Community Church (United Church of Christ), Dublin, Ohio:
At Dublin Community Church, we open our doors to many organizations, as mentioned in my previous post. Judgments are made by our Church Council as to some leeway on charges for some groups depending on that group’s financial situation. We do have a schedule of room rental fees that apply to most groups.
Groups within our church pay no fees to use the building. We have a Preschool that is not run by the church, but by their own Preschool Board. They pay us a set fee per year, and have signed contracts with us, so that’s a more formal agreement, and we do depend on that income every year. The Dublin Community Food Pantry is housed in our church, but we have never charged them rent since we feel that is a mission of our church, but that may change. Sometimes, Dublin city and civic groups meet at our church, and they are usually not charged. There are AA meetings many times per week, and they give the church a donation each month. Weddings have their own fee structure set by our Ministers and Church Council, and non-members have a different fee than members. These are just a few examples of groups that meet at our church.
We definitely feel that our space should be open for use during the week, since we are very centrally located and we are very much a mission-oriented church. This does at times create minor issues of double-booking space or too many cars in the parking lot, but it is handled with patience by our staff and usually the groups themselves as well. We also feel that exposing the public to our church space is a gesture of goodwill, and if people are looking for a church home, they may try us out since they’ve already been to our building for a meeting, etc.
Christopher and Kristi Hintz, Marquette Hope, Marquette, Michigan:
We co-pastor a multi-site United Methodist congregation in Marquette, Michigan. We became very intentional about sharing space about two years ago. At the time, we were working through a visioning process with our congregation around church development. We were asked to take a look at asset-based ministry. In answer to the question, "What do we have?" we realized we had a lot of space in three locations. Space is at a premium in our community, and so we felt it was something we could offer. We felt called to build relationship as true community partners, strengthening and enriching our community by affirming and empowering positive community involvement. A strong community can be visualized as a web of connection. We are proud of our congregation's ability to provide a firm anchor for the web to grow along with our community.
We are very interested in exploring questions about what church can be in our time and place. The ministry of welcoming and hospitality seems hugely relevant. In many communities, the church has allowed itself to be sidelined. We seek to re-engage in vital and meaningful ways as our community changes and grows. Since we began actively seeking community partners, we have welcomed a day care with 100 families, a Community Youth Theater, a Pathways Clubhouse program, a Pentecostal congregation, as well as maintaining our relationship with various recovery groups and other community organizations. We realized that even our parking lots were an asset, and so we share ours with the staff of our public library and college students who attend the University adjacent to one of our church buildings. The day-to-day interaction that sharing space allows has led to other connections with these organizations and our community that we would otherwise struggle to achieve. Sharing space allows us to build and strengthen a web of meaningful community connection. We are working with our congregation to treat each person who comes through our doors as a valuable part of the community we are building. We want our buildings to truly provide a home for those who seek to engage with others and grow into the future in endless positive ways.
Kristi Hintz, Marquette Hope, Marquette, Michigan:
I happened to be holding the door open last night for people coming in for Narcotics Anonymous. As I watched them file past me, I realized something. Here are the youth that my congregation has been asking me about: “Where are the kids who used to hang out in the youth room playing pool?” I have found them - they are in the church on Tuesday nights for court-ordered Narcotics Anonymous. They are nice kids, and I counted close to 30 of them. As a parent of teenage boys myself, I would love to be parenting and pastoring in the days when kids could be found safely sitting around the church youth room. Sadly, we recently dismantled the pool table in our youth room to make room for the daycare, because it had been so long since anybody played pool.
How do we, then, care for and nurture the children and young adults who, at least in the community where we live here in Marquette, have grown up so quickly and managed to get into trouble so fast? I fear that they would feel that their place in the church is on a folding chair in the basement on Tuesday nights and not in a pew on Sunday morning. Even their parents have wandered away from the church because they are worried that the behavior of their children will be judged. How do we then welcome these teenagers on Tuesdays, and accept them for who they are and the young adults they are trying to be in the dangerous culture in which we live?
Secondly, and certainly less profoundly, we had a meeting with the owners of the day care operating in our building about doing a Trunk or Treat event and a holiday needs-based collection event jointly with the church and the day care families. I was excited about this development toward truly becoming community partners.
 Mark Chaves, Shawna Anderson, and Alison Eagle, National Congregations Study, cumulative data file and codebook (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University, Department of Sociology, 2014).
 “U.S. Congregational Life Survey, Wave 2, 2008/2009, Random Sample Congregational Profile Survey.”