The Interim Church: How Temporary Church Homes Can Help a Congregation Plan and Grow

ARISE church New churches often get started in temporary facilities, such as schools, auditoriums, and even office buildings. A church can use its time in a temporary home to get on firm financial footing and develop a facilities plan.
Image source: Flickr CC user ARISE Church

Across the U.S., congregations plant thousands of new churches each year. Many start off with small gatherings of like-minded people in a person’s home. But when the word gets out and more people start coming, most new churches will have the same problem: Where are folks going to meet on Sunday?

Few newly established churches have the means to buy or build a permanent building right away. Churches often have to wait several years before they can afford a home that matches their needs. A church in Athens, Georgia, for example, finally moved into a permanent facility – a large warehouse – after its Sunday turnout swelled to more than 3,400 people. Before that, it had a temporary home in a high school auditorium. This “temporary” situation lasted nearly a decade.

Temporary Church Homes Can Be Short-term or Long-term

Many churches, by contrast, move several times. In Oregon, for example, a new church started in a hay barn and has since moved to a school. While they still haven’t found their permanent home, they’re taking steps forward. Perhaps the most frequent — and successful – mover is a mega-church based in California. The Saddleback Church, now a congregation of more than 10,000 members, reputedly met in 67 locations in the first 15 years. In most cases, however, churches will want to find a more stable temporary home where they can build their base in the same neighborhood where they are planning to buy property and build a permanent church building.

Temporary Church Homes Come in Many Shapes and Sizes

Churches have several options when looking for a temporary meeting place. In Danforth, Oklahoma, a church leased roughly 2,300 square feet in an office building. Last year, a California-based mega-church began negotiating a long-term lease with the city of El Cajon to take over a performing arts center. Of the many options, however, schools are at the top of list. In the U.S., thousands of congregations use school facilities on the weekends when the school is closed. USA Today reported that 35 churches were located in schools in Los Angeles. There were 60 churches in schools in New York City and more than 100 in Miami. It is not hard to figure out why.

Schools offer everything a church needs in a temporary location: parking, a centralized location, and an auditorium with seating, sound systems, and lighting. School facilities also tend to be relatively inexpensive to lease. A West Palm Beach school district was charging a church $2,244 a year for the congregation to meet once a week in the auditorium — a fraction of what it would have cost if it had rented commercial space of the same size.

Rules of Thumb for a Temporary Church Home

When considering a temporary home for a church, the congregation should follow a few rules:

Look for stability: A church will want a meeting space that is accessible and centrally located, but also one that it can use for several years. Leasing a temporary facility, however, will never be as stable as owning. Even in the case of government-owned buildings and schools, which are not likely to be sold, there are no guarantees. For example, a church in Fort Lauderdale was given a month’s notice to move out of a county-owned building slated for social services offices.

Don’t lose sight of the goal: While churches often gather in temporary facilities for many years, they should not lose sight of the end-game – to build a permanent home that can become a lasting institution in a neighborhood. The church always needs to have a solid, multi-year facilities plan in place that can guide the congregation to its final goal.

Don’t go too big: It may sound odd, but a church that wants to get bigger probably does better with a building that is too small than too big. If the meeting space is too small, the church can always add service times. If the space is way too big, however, new visitors could be put off by the large number of empty seats. A good rule of thumb for a growing church is to try to keep about 90 percent of the seats full.

Temporary Church Homes Buy Time for Congregations

Remaining in a temporary home for many years is not necessarily a bad thing for a church. A temporary facility can buy a church time to put its finances in order. In previous blogs, we mentioned some churches that overextended themselves by going too big, too soon. A church can use its time in a temporary home to build for sensible growth, setting down its long-term goals that include plans for future facilities.

As with every commercial real estate deal, a church will likely need help finding a stable, temporary location and building out a viable plan for their ultimate location. A congregation should contact an experienced commercial real estate consultant that can help develop a facilities plan and assist in finding the right building and property, even if that property is a stepping stone to a permanent location.

If your congregation is looking for a temporary church facility, you don’t have to go it alone. You can get a thorough analysis of the market with all the available options from a consultant whose community values align with your own. Contact DCG Real Estate today to learn more.