Opening your church to the community sounds great on the lips, but can be the source of great conflict and frustration if your church isn’t ready to do so. Here are some things to consider if you would like to maximize the use of your facility for the community:
1. Honestly Assess Your Church Leadership’s Pain Tolerance. If criticism really rattles leadership, or if leadership doesn’t enthusiastically embrace opening your doors to the community to the point of enduring a lot of heat–DON”T OPEN YOUR FACILITY TO THE COMMUNITY! You’ll just let everyone know how dysfunctional you are and make them feel unwelcome. That word will spread, and it won’t be a good thing. Showing radical hospitality to the community will bring criticism. You will get it from the church, from the community members using the facility, and from your neighbors. The worst thing isn’t getting criticism. It’s mishandling it. The reason we usually do that is because of the anxiety produced by the criticism. If you are going to do this, stand tall, while maintaining a clarity of vision that will allow you to listen to criticism without being defined by it. If you don’t have the stomach for it–develop the stomach for it before you open your doors to the community.
2. Identify how much you are willing to share. No…for real. I mean, are your willing to let a school share classrooms with your Bible classes; Narcotics Anonymous use your Fellowship Hall; another church share your children’s ministry rooms–a church plant or theater group use your worship space? Once you’ve determined this, ask yourself…
3. How will you actually respond when shared space is damaged? No…for real. You need to picture it in your head. Picture a bitter noise complaint from a neighbor, an angry children’s ministry teacher, a beer bottle in the parking lot, a blown speaker or graffiti in the bathroom. I know what you’re thinking–that won’t happen at our place because we won’t allow it. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. I’m not saying you won’t have policies against graffiti, beer, noise, etc. I’m saying you won’t be able to enforce it 100%. So, rules aren’t made to be broken. Rules are made and are broken–though hopefully not too often. So, how we you handle it?
4. Answer the delicate money/usage questions. Will you charge money for facility usage? If so, how much? How will damage be paid for? At NVC, the higher “risk” the user is, the more we charge to cover the expense of any damage that occurs. Security deposits are a good thing. Will you give long-term leases, or must people rent month-to-month or week-to-week? Will you allow more than one group to use the facility at the same time? Will you allow people to use an unused part of the facility at the same time your congregation is meeting? Are there groups you will exclude out-of-hand? Will you have someone at the facility to supervise what’s going on? If so, will they be volunteer or paid and trained? Answer these questions on the front side–and it will save you many troubles. We’ve answered them as we’ve gone–and that’s something I would have changed. However,
5. Have someone who knows what they are doing draw up a facility use agreement. This applies whether a group is using the facility for free, or when there is renting. When (not if) there is a disagreement about expectations, this will save your bacon. Always have a way for the church to remove a user for cause if you sign a long-term lease with someone.
6. Wait for users to find you, do a good job hosting them, and you will have more people to host than you can handle. We started with a Spanish-speaking church using the facility a few nights a week. After a few weeks, we had more and more people wanting to use the facility. Now, on an average week, we have 3 churches (including ours), a wedding or quinceanera, a large theater group, narcotics/alcoholics anonymous, a couple of support groups, a couple of small groups, cheerleader groups, home-school mom groups, women’s bible study, and occasionally–others. It’s common to have a Spanish-speaking church, theater group, and our worship band all using the facility at the same time.
There is a tradeoff, to be sure, but it is so worth it. Allowing your church to become a place where people feel welcome takes time, but is priceless. We have more people who don’t know the Lord on our campus in a week than we would in four or five Easter services. That’s a blessing and an opportunity.
That’s not all, but it is all for today. What experiences has your church had opening up its facilities to the community? What concerns do you have?