Let’s be honest, Mr. Church Planter, what you really want, what you really NEED, is a permanent building. You have gone about as far as you can in the gymatorium; it is time to get a big boy home. If you had a building you could have an office where no one ever changes a diaper, your church nursery could look more like Disney and less like Alcatraz, you could stop choosing drummers based on their ability to lift speakers on to stands. You are ready to call the real estate agent and find your holy nirvana. Before you pick up the phone let me throw out a couple of hidden costs you may not have considered.
When I was at Seacoast Church we transitioned six campuses from portable to permanent, so I’ve been down this road a few times. Buildings have a lot of upside, but there are some major hidden costs. Before you pull the trigger let me share some things I’ve learned about permanent locations.
Buildings attract Christians
How many unchurched people (who aren’t attending any of the other churches who already have buildings) are sitting at home thinking, “Now when that really cool new church meeting in the middle school gets a building THEN I’ll give my heart to Jesus”? They aren’t going to 1st Baptist or 1st Presbyterian or 1st Unitarian, all who already have way better buildings then you will ever have, why are the going to show up at your newly renovated warehouse?
Christians on the other hand LOVE buildings. They can smell a new church building from miles away. That’s why you see big attendance jumps in some churches (especially churches in the Bible Belt) when they open a new building. If your target audience is now sitting in someone else’s pew, then a new building is just the bait to lure them in. If you really are after the unchurched a buidling might not have the impact you think it will have.
Think about it. Who is putting the biggest pressure on you to get a permanent facility? Is it the guy whose life was a complete disaster until he found Jesus at your church, or is it the family who moved over from 1st Church because “they just weren’t being fed”?
Buildings eat 24/7
When you get a permanent facility you won’t have to set up and tear down any more, but you will have to pour endless amounts of cash into the care and feeding of your new money pit. You will now have utility bills, common area maintenance bills, roof repair bills. You will have the joy of adding a janitor and/or facilities manager to your staff. When the air conditioners break you get to fix them. You also get to install burglar alarms and fire alarms and sprinkler systems.
When you rent a facility for the weekend you write one or two checks a month (depending on how you pay the janitor). When you rent or own a permanent facility you get to write check after check after check. Hopefully enough new already tithing Christians will show up so you can keep the lights on.
By the way, the upfit (tenant improvements) of the new facility are going to cost more (a lot more) and take longer (a lot longer) than you have planned for. Trust me on this one.
Buildings modify vision
Once you have a permanent location the vision of your church will be greatly impacted by your building. A lot of what you do will be guided by paying for your box, filling up your box and expanding your box. You can no longer move to a bigger box down the street, you are now locked in.
Church buildings are not evil, obviously most churches have had them for the past 1700 years. But if we are going to really make a dent in reaching lost people I think we are going to have to literally think outside the box.
Tomorrow I’ll share some tips on how to stave off the building monster and stay portable as long as possible. What tips do you have for other church planters on succeeding at portable?