Repurposing Your Space

As you look out on the landscape of your community from the perspective of your small church perch, you might have asked, “What can we do to help the community?” The one thing a faltering church typically has is space: empty classrooms, parking lots, education buildings, or offices. How can your local church leverage that area to help the community? 

It takes a reimagining of what was to see what could be. The process is easy for outsiders but very difficult for those who have been a part of the church for an extended period. Spend some time walking around the church campus. Write down where you observe extra space or leverage limited use space of one to two hours a week to be used more often.

How Can Your Church Serve Locally?

Every community has needs. What those needs are and how other churches or nonprofits are meeting them can only be answered through an honest analysis of the local community you serve by you and the church leadership. There are opportunities outside the church’s doors if you brainstorm the need, who in the community is meeting the demand for services, what conditions need to be met in the marketplace, etc. An idea sparked inside the brainstorming session with your leadership team (church board, church council, deacons, elders, or influential members) will bear fruit in the future. 

Once the church defines the need that is not met within the care continuum within the community, reflect on how your local church can fill the gap or host a nonprofit agency on your site. While some may look at all the steeples in town and ask why we need another church ministry, know that the spiritual marketplace is not saturated, and that God wants to use your church to focus on living out your Christian faith beyond a Sunday morning service. The church of Christ should not just be a building used once a week but a place where life is lived seven days a week on and off campus, serving a higher calling. 

What Resources Can Your Church Leverage to Help the Community?

As the leadership brainstorms and evaluates the property’s current and future uses, you must begin to see what God could do if the church were open to serving in a new way. If repurposed, the empty classroom or classroom filled with forgotten stuff from the past could be used to do something new. 

I get it—change is never easy, but this type of change can transform loss into gain. Think about it this way: When partnering with a for-profit or nonprofit organization, your local church can redeem a space waiting for use. While you might think you need more money, God sees many people helped through a new partnership. Isaiah 43:19 says, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Many small churches focus on people, money, and time to either expand or cut community outreach. What about focusing on God? He is calling your church out of the wilderness of decline by using a perceived weakness (empty classrooms or space) to expand your ministry footprint by partnering with other agencies within the community to provide services. 

Let me give you an example: In my current assignment, the church decades ago was running 600 people, hosted a K-12 Christian school, and was filled weekly with activities. Today, it runs much lower than that, with no school and empty buildings. While we could blame 25 years of decline on various situations or leaders, the church has redirected its outlook on creatively reusing God’s property. The former school is rented to a private daycare. Two empty buildings on the property now form the basis of a new thrift store, food pantry, homeless ministry, and future compassionate ministry center. The gymnasium, used primarily for eight weeks a year, has now become a community center used in partnership with the Boys & Girls Club, a walking club, children’s church, and a host of community sporting events. 

So what changed? Our outlook. We took a perceived negative and have turned it to God’s advantage. Even the 1,200-person seat sanctuary has had 26 pews removed and future designs for expanded coffee and gathering areas added to where they once were. 

What is that? It is the people surrendering and God moving on our behalf. Do not overcomplicate things by saying what you do not have. Begin by seeing what you have to offer God and trust him. When you do, you begin to take the negative and turn it into a positive, which leads to leading a compassionate community of believers.

Desmond Barrett
Desmond Barrett
Desmond Barrett is the lead pastor at Winter Haven First Church of the Nazarene in Winter Haven, Florida. He is the author of several books, most recently, Helping the Small Church Win Guests: Preparing To Increase Attendance (Wipf & Stock Publications) and has done extensive research in the area of church revitalization and serves as church revitalizer, consultant, coach, podcast host and mentor to revitalizing pastors and churches.