They may have gotten too big for their present facility, and either need a new location or are seeking to plant a satellite ministry in a not-too-distant location or two. Sometimes they’re splitting off from a larger group; in other instances they’re brand new, and are looking for a place to take root and grow. And they’re meeting in a variety of locations in communities across the country, including school cafeterias, hotel conference rooms, and movie theaters as well as some bowling alleys and casinos.
Wherever they’re coming from and for whatever reason, portable churches e.g., churches that meet in rented facilities most often built for some other use all face a variety of challenges in planting and growing their ministries, with finding a location and getting all the necessary equipment and furnishings in place only the beginning steps of an ongoing process.
The portable church market is growing these days, according to Kendra Malloy, sales and marketing specialist with Portable Church Industries (PCI). This Troy, Michigan-based company, founded in 1994, specializes in assisting portable churches by supplying them with the entire range of equipment, furnishings, and storage necessary to operate a church facility, as well as consultative services that help them get up and running.
“There are many different situations where a church may decide to become portable,” says Malloy. “There are new launches, where a pastor either has a call to plant a new church or split off from an existing one,” she explains. Other churches may want to set up multi-site campuses, she notes, utilizing a mix of owned and rented facilities.
Money is often a major factor in a new church deciding to “go portable,” according to Greg Lindsey, former lead pastor of Lifepointe Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. This independent, non-denominational Christian church with a 550-person congregation that was launched in February 2004, is now led by Donnie Williams and meets at a Raleigh-area six-screen movie theater.
“Staffing well to carry out your ministry and paying these people doesn’t leave a lot of money for facilities,” Lindsey says.
Whatever the reason a church has for opting to be portable, finding the right location is the first order of business and that’s often a difficult task, according to Craig Cabaniss, pastor of Grace Church in Frisco, Texas, one of 60 local Christian churches in the United States, Mexico, Canada, Bolivia, Ethiopia, and the United Kingdom that belong to Sovereign Grace Ministries. Pastor Cabaniss’s new (as of July 2005) church meets in the conference facilities of The Westin Stonebriar hotel in this fast-growing area north of Dallas.
“The biggest challenge is finding a suitable location where you can have worship services and provide a children’s ministry,” says Cabaniss. Finding such a location that is available on a consistent basis can be difficult, he notes, “because there are a lot of places that will rent you a space but they can’t commit to doing it the same time every week.”
Up and Running
Thanks to extensive signage, finding Lifepointe Church in Raleigh on a Sunday morning isn’t at all difficult, even for those that have never been there before. Early on Sunday morning, church members put out 14 directional road signs in the vicinity of the theater, with banners on all nearby corners also pointing the way. The church also hangs a six-foot by fifteen-foot banner on the front of the theater.
Signage is also used inside the theater to help create a unique atmosphere for Sunday morning, according to Lindsey. Churchgoers and visitors are greeted by an eight-foot by fifteen-foot “Welcome to Lifepointe” sign in the main lobby above the theater’s two concession stands, which are used by the church as the information booth and coffee-service areas.
In what Lindsey calls “the kid’s rooms,” signage with pictures of the children “creates a very nice visual feel when you first walk in.” Lifepointe uses the theater’s various screening rooms to house its children’s ministries. The church purchased three-foot high portable fencing to fence-in the approximately 10-foot by 35-foot area in between the screen and the first row of seats, he explains, “which kind of corrals them all in there with kitchen playsets, chairs, toys, baby beds the whole deal.”
Lifepointe purchased many of the supplies and furnishings for its facility from a now-defunct church that had been a client of PCI. As a result, the church has a seven-foot by 24-foot cargo trailer it is allowed (as negotiated with theater ownership) to keep in the theater parking lot. The trailer houses rollout container cases into which church items can be packed up and stored after Sunday services each week. Lifepointe also stores items in theater closets and underneath the movie screens, according to Lindsey, who adds “We’ve never had any problems, and we’ve yet to lose anything.”
Rather than round up its own furnishings and supplies, Grace Church in Frisco, Texas ordered everything it needed to get going from PCI. As part of its “soup-to-nuts” approach to outfitting a portable church, the company sent a consultant on-site to assess the church’s needs and come up with a list of equipment that Malloy says “is everything a church needs to ‘do church’ exactly the way they want to.”
In its role as a distributor, PCI assembles all of the necessary equipment. It also constructs container cases with diagrams showing to what area of the church the equipment inside needs to be delivered prior to setup; and supplies a seven-foot by twenty-four-foot cargo trailer for storing the cases. And then, well before the first service, several PCI staff members deliver the goods to the church, doing a complete unload/set-up/run-through with every piece of equipment in order to orient the church on how to use its system and follows this up with a complete teardown and pack-up.
“A lot needs to happen to successfully start up a new church,” says Cabaniss. By using a well-thought-out equipment and storage system, “We were able to start on our first Sunday with a nursery, children’s ministry classroom, bookstore, sound and video systems, with everything from coffeemakers to communion cups.”
That’s important, Cabaniss says, because when starting a new church, “A pastor is thinking about how to reach out with the Gospel to people not about the sound system. And by having someone else provide us with exactly what we need to start, we can put a lot more focus on our people.”
No matter the way in which it’s started, a “church-in-a-box” has to be aware of multiple concerns when it comes to insurance for their stored property, according to Thomas J. Rozema, CPCU, CIC, Vice President of Underwriting for Fort Wayne, Indiana-based Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company, which specializes in insuring churches and religious facilities.
One concern for portable churches is insurance coverage for the trailer that contains all their supplies and equipment, something which is not covered property under the typical commercial property-casualty insurance policy. “They need to make sure they have a commercial automobile-type policy for the trailer,” says Rozema.
Where the trailer is parked and equipment is stored can also be a cause for concern, especially if that location isn’t the same as that of the church, and particularly if that location changes. “The church needs to make sure their insurance company not only knows where they are meeting, but where the trailer is being stored, making sure the insurance company is kept informed if that location changes,” Rozema adds.
If the church isn’t sure that the trailer will be in a certain location at all times, “They can put the entire contents of the trailer into an Inland Marine policy,” that covers goods in transit, Rozema states, “but the premiums will be higher, and not all insurance companies will do this.” The best course of action in all instances, he adds, is to “Talk to your insurance agent about these issues.”
Portable Church Industries
(800) 939-7722 or (248) 585-9540
Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Co.
Church insurance specialists
(800) 333-3735 or (260) 482-8668