I contend that thousands of houses of worship across America are the most wasted spaces in America. A far majority of churches in America today are small and find it difficult to pay their bills let alone their clergy, and yet many of these same churches sit empty - or nearly so - six days a week.
I live and work in New England; tough country for churches to grow. Very few churches here experience double digit annual growth. Most are happy if they can finish the year with the same attendance numbers. Many of these same churches sit empty for much of the week. Wouldn’t it be nice to have additional revenue streams to supplement stagnant or even dwindling contributions?
This is not a new idea!
In the 1200s, both monks and nuns were known for their horticultural talents. They grew vegetables and herbs for their own use, but also for medicinal purposes. Seeds and plants were sold to help the monasteries financially. Medieval monks in France perfected grape cultivation to produce wine to fill communion cups. The wine quickly became popular with household meals. Monasteries produced and sold these wines to enable their Christian charity. The concept of using church lands to produce a commodity for sale to enable ministry is centuries old. You could call it a “bivocational” use of church resources just as some clergy work “bivocationally,” dividing their resource of time between ministry and a secular job to help make ends meet.
For centuries, churches have been known for Christian schools, especially pre-schools. Depending on your demographic, that empty space in your church could be transformed into a weekday preschool, after school program or daycare program. Our Hopkinton, MA location made it ideal to expand our weekday preschool and after school program.
We are now reaching 80 families and their children most of whom are not attending our church (yet!). There is a wonderful opportunity here for outreach as well as additional funding for the facility.
There are several models of churches creating preschools. Some congregations can find the leadership within the church, training congregants to be director and teachers. Others find a person in the community who fits the church’s vision and mission who has a heart for children. In some cases, churches import whole existing preschools who move into the church because they’ve outgrown a prior location. From experience
I’ve learned how important it is, however, to keep a good relationship between those who run the Sunday morning children’s program and those who run the daily preschool. I’ve seen at least one example where the director and teachers are also involved in the Sunday morning program, and the songs sung during the week are the same on Sunday, making it easier for children and families to migrate from the preschool into the church’s Sunday experience.
And while we’re on the topic of using church space for education, we also started our first adult English as a Second Language (ESL) class. There are several providers offering curriculum for ESL as a form of outreach. Other churches may find it necessary to charge tuition to help pay for the building. In either case, ESL is in great need across America. After you start one class (e.g. Beginning ESL), you can add additional levels and related classes such as Conversational English or American Customs and Idioms. Consider adding a host of practical adult education classes that benefit your community and, in some cases, charge a modest tuition fee to help you pay for your building.
If you don’t have the entrepreneurial skill in your church to start these programs, you can also rent out space to organizations that do. We rent some of our space to SCORE: a college preparatory company.
Most churches also have at least a part-time receptionist, office equipment and coffee. Consider doing some minor changes to your space and renting out desks by the hour. There are several companies that will market your space to people looking for “office space” that is no more than a desk in a work environment. Rental income will vary depending on your location, but in cities it can be as high as $30/hour for not much more than a desk with access to a copy machine, wifi and, of course, coffee! And, this is another opportunity for outreach: getting to know people in your community.
Some of those renting desk space may want to rent space to make a presentation to a group. Most churches are already set up for this with either boardroom/classroom space or even the worship center for larger presentations.
Another positive thing about creating businesses like these in the church is that you can use under-skilled workers or immigrants new to the workforce and conduct workforce training. There are many ministry opportunities intertwined with these entrepreneurial efforts.
Worried about government regulations on what you can earn as a non-profit? Call your state revenue department to learn more. If your income were to get too high, you can create another non-profit for the purpose of workforce training. You can even create a for-profit that rents space from the church and pays taxes. There are professionals in most communities to help you make these decisions.
For more information or to share with me your story of church businesses, drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next month: More Ways to Utilize the Most Wasted Space in America.