Put Out the Welcome Mat

Your church board has invited the community to share unused church space in a future partnership. Now what? 

Sharing space where once it had been empty is an exciting prospect for a church that has been in steady decline. Once classrooms were filled with church families, today, through local partnerships, they are turned into offices for nonprofits, childcare classrooms for a for-profit business, or space for future rental income through parties, meeting space, or hosting a homeschool co-op. There are endless opportunities to turn unused space into community space, but it will take a flexible and agile leadership eye to embrace change.

It will be easy to see any negative that comes forth, such as an overflowing trash can or chipped paint on a hallway door, but focus on the God moments of individuals coming to the church seeking help, families feeling safe dropping off their children or just more cars in the parking lot. As a leader, if you embrace the change in the community, you will see the hand of God all over it. Subsequently, if you look hard enough, you will see harmful components that can destroy the God partnership that is before you. Let me remind you that your local church, possibly even you, prayed for more people to come to the church. While they might not come on Sunday, God used the prayers, property, and space to fill them with the community and bless the local ministry.

The church wants to grow and rebound from its decline. They have taken the steps, inventoried space for potential use for new ministry opportunities, cleaned the facility to prepare for future guests, and have now begun new partnerships. The mission field that seemed so far away has now entered the four walls of the church. What a God opportunity. What a chance to use your missionary skills to reach a potential new convert to Christ or even the local church. Find ways at least once a month where the church can pour out its love upon others. See these touchpoints as love points from God. Allow the church’s hospitality to extend into the lives of these community members who share the space with church members.

Here are several ways to connect with this new community:

* Provide breakfast to the community partners. Set up a breakfast station in the fellowship hall or lobby where these new rental partners can stop throughout the morning and pick up a meal the church provides. The meal can be a formal breakfast or grab-and-go breakfast items. The idea is to let the partner know the church values the partnership. 

* Donate drinks and snacks, setting up a formal break room where employees or guests of the partnership can be provided with complimentary refreshments. On each refreshment, stick a label with a scripture verse and position a small sign near the items that let the partners know your church thanks them for their partnership.

* Have the partner agency share during a church service what they are doing, and beforehand, ask if there are any needs. During the service, share that need with the church and either collect items in the coming week to meet the need or take up a special offering. Either way, the focus is for the local church to see the partnership opportunities before them.

Be creative and allow your local context to dictate the response to this your new partnerships. However, you choose to respond, serve like Jesus, act with compassion, and be charitable in your discourse.

One note of caution: There will be a tendency to begin declaring lines in the sand between current members and partners renting, leasing, or sharing space inside the church facility. Maybe not by you, but trust me, by church leaders, elected and unelected, who will say they have the church’s best interest at heart. The truth is that change is hard, and some folks will react the opposite way you would expect them to act. Church leadership might cite legal responsibility to slow down the process of uniting in a shared space or begin to bicker over a room not picked up or a light left on. In the grander scheme of things, these small, mundane things can consume the positive momentum of the partnership and turn it into a dreadful one. As a church leader, you must help guard against the tendency of others to unwind the forward progress. 

Your voice as a church leader can help extinguish a harmful fire of words and actions or fan the flames that could destroy the partnership. Your position within the church has been entrusted to you by God and should be taken hold of by such. Help lead your leadership team and church to see the possible opportunities, and when an issue arises, help them navigate it with God’s grace. 

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 and most recently the co-author with Charlotte P. Holter of Missional Reset: Capturing the Heart for Local Missions in the Established Church (Resource 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.