Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pastor Jacob Birch and Church-As-Community-Centre

7 Advantages (and 3 pitfalls) of the church-as-community-centre model

With 6 years experience, 10 acres and over 100,000 sq feet of multi-use space developed and developing into a church-as-community-centre model for ministry i have learned a few lessons that i want to share in this blog post. 

What do i mean by "church-as-community-centre ministry model"? I mean in the simplest terms that your church building has 2+ permanent tenants/partners with your congregation that are not primarily religious organizations/charities. I am not talking about renting out your gym once a week to the local badminton club. I am talking about you and the badminton club running simultaneously full time out of one facility. 

At Glengate Alliance Church we are still working on - and will always be working on - our model for this type of ministry. We haven't perfected it, nor have we finished what we currently envision but we do share our facility on a permanent basis with:

Advantage 1 - The community comes to you. 
Being in a former highschool and having people on our campus for a whole host of "secular" reasons, really helps to lower the "what are behind those religious looking doors" barrier that does exist in the minds of most seekers today. 

Advantage 2 - Comfortable felt-needs-based service opportunities 
Whether it is arranging rides or meals or gifts for seniors or helping organize a CPR course, sharing your facility gives you right here, right now ways that your people can serve the community "from the comfort of their own building". With older or more socially conservative churches this could be a real advantage.   Matthew 5:16 "In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."

Advantage 3 - Ready-made audience for your programs
Whether it is getting the word out about your Seniors Lunch or recruiting folks to do some weeding the garden, with 3 or 10 community groups sharing a facility a "all for one, one for all" mentality can mean a real multiplier effect in terms of the best kind of publicity we all want... word of mouth. The personal recommendation and invitation has always been and more and more continues to be the best way to get people to your stuff as my brother has shown in his blog UnSeminary

Advantage 4 - Steady traffic from occasional renters 
In a sense this is really 3b, but with so many permanent partners in our facility we don't have to advertise to keep our surplus (read: expensive) time and space about 55% utilized thanks almost entirely to their word-of-mouth recommends. (You think 55% is a low utilization rate? Stop and think about how much time and space actually goes unused in your average church building. My best estimate is that most churches run at about 20% utilization rate at best. I will be doing a future detailed blog post about this with real metrics from our facility). 

Valerie Rachel Martin and the Niagara Artist Studio just re-located to 6009 Valley Way. Welcome! 

Advantage 5 - You are that church that ____________
Being known for something more than simply being "a church" is a helpful reinforcement to our own people about impact God is having through them and their church in the community; being that church that also has that basketball or health or garden or housing or ______________ program/group/ministry is a helpful tool in shaping your "brand" in the minds of the community members that aren't shaped by the evangelical sub-culture that actually populates your church as well. In these days "being a church" is not enough to even get former/lapsed or disgruntled Christians through your doors, let alone actually bona-fide unbelievers. Building that "brand bridge" through also having a community garden, housing project, basketball league or whatever is a cheap, helpful, positive way to make your church less threatening. 

Advantage 6 - Broader financial base for operations
Amortizing the costs associated with a new roof ($11/sq foot times 85,000 the math on that to know what we have bitten off), a new parking lot, a new ____________ only makes sense. Having "the collection plate" bear all these operational and capital costs is just simply not good stewardship when so many have yet to hear the gospel. 

Advantage 7 - Interested long term purchasers
Having other community groups vested in your facility gives you a small, motivated, interested and informed group of potential purchasers of your facility should you get called to move your congregation elsewhere. Given that 34 school board buildngs are coming up for sale in Niagara over the next 5 years and given that the Anglican Diocese of Niagara is closing something like 20-25 churches over the next 10 years... the market for our type of facility will be flooded with supply. Which can only mean one thing if and when your church comes to sell its treasured, painstaking maintained and well developed building... no one will want to pay what you are asking for it. Having 4 or 5 groups already using your facility and enjoying themselves... gives you a potentially great pool of purchasers that realize "the real value" of your bricks and mortar and who MIGHT just be willing to pay. 

Pitfall 1 - Scheduling, scheduling, scheduling 
If a building is poorly or over-scheduled that cosy "all in this together" feeling can quickly become that irritated "who left the seat up on the toilet again" feeling. 

Pitfall 2 - Just another name on the sign 
Your church people will see the proliferation of others sharing and using the builidng and feel that they are "getting lost" or are "just another name on the sign". You have to work to preserve a sense that this is "our place" not "theirs" or "mine" but "ours". 

Pitfall 3 - This all only works if your church is actually full of Christ-followers
It should seem obvious but if your people don't follow Christ and live according to his priorities and aren't filled with His Spirit, then most of the 7 advantages are short circuited and these 3 pitfalls will only exacerbate the situation.
1 Peter 2:12

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.