IF YOUR CHURCH is considering getting into the event-hosting "business" by renting its facilities to outside groups, you might want to take some tips from a couple of churches that are well-experienced in doing this.
Located in Naperville, Illinois, Yellow Box Community Christian Church (often called just "Naperville Yellow Box" because of the two-story building that houses it) began actively seeking out opportunities to host events about six years ago, according to Mike Tjaarda, the church's facilities director. "For us, it is a way of developing good relationships with local community groups, partnering with them to allow opportunities where they can enjoy the facilities we have been blessed with," says Tjaarda.
Following an extensive, $8 million renovation/ expansion in 2014, Yellow Box facilities now include a 1,200-seat auditorium, a gymnasium, and a 1,000-seat theater, all of which are available for rental by not-forprofit groups. "We have space for every size group you could imagine," Tjaarda says. The types of events hosted here cover a wide range, and include those for Boy Scout and Girl Scout groups; summer enrichment programs for a local community college; music, dance and theater productions by local organizations; and a number of what Tjaarda calls "anonymous groups," such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous, "that just want a space to call home."
At Yellow Box, "We want to be open to a variety of groups we don't want to say that we're only interested in a particular type," says Tjaarda. That said, though, "The one thing we try to make sure of is that the group's values fall in line with those of our church."
Meanwhile, Black Rock Church, a non-denominational church in Fairfield, Connecticut, began renting space in its 950-seat worship center, 100-seat gathering room, 40-seat conference room, and a 200-seat multipurpose room when it opened its new building in 2014. The church rents only to non-profit organizations, according to Black Rock executive director Ken Brix, who states that "Our goal is to be a resource to other churches and community organizations." Events hosted here include weddings, funerals, concerts, seminars and meetings, according to Brix. And, unlike Yellow Box, Black Rock does not actively seek out events, he says, noting that "We do no marketing. Organizations seem to find us and we often have to say no."
Issues and Challenges
Churches that successfully serve as hosts to events by outside groups have to deal with a variety of issues. One of the more basic ones is scheduling. While Black Rock plays host to only one or two events per month, at Yellow Box, "Every day, we've probably got 10 or 15 different groups in the building," says Tjaarda. At the present time, Yellow Box uses Google Calendar as its main scheduling tool, he notes, although leaders are exploring the use of facilities management software. Brix points out that one important part of scheduling is making sure events are scheduled so that they don't conflict with
church activities. "Churches need to ensure that their space is always first reserved for ministry needs before agreeing to rent any of it out for events" he advises. And from an employee-scheduling standpoint, "These events can also be a big drain on staff, so their availability must be assessed, especially in the case of custodians and tech support people." Churches also have to determine what kind of fees to charge those that use their facilities.
At Yellow Box, fees are based on the cost of items such as lights, HVAC and any facility prep/cleanup done by the church, according to Tjaarda, who notes that "We are not in this to make a buck."
A formal rental agreement between the church and the group renting its facilities is important. At both Yellow Box and Black Rock, agreements include fee schedules, along with information on the responsibilities of the parties involved. For example, in addition to a detailed fee and deposit schedule, provisions in the Black Rock agreement include general facility usage guidelines; reservation and cancellation policies; insurance requirements; and specific policies dealing with weddings and funerals.
The agreement also includes space for those booking the facility to draw a diagram showing location and number of chairs and tables they wish to have in their room set-up. "Our most important concerns are that we are dealing with a non-profit organization; liability insurance; and good communication with the organization to ensure all needs are met, and appropriate resources assigned," says Brix.
Hire a Coordinator
Both Black Rock and Yellow Box utilize inhouse coordinators to help ensure that space rentals run smoothly.
As Yellow Box has become more active in hosting events, it determined that having an in-house, on-site, day-of-the- event coordinator is an absolute necessity, according to Tjaarda. With this individual, "We have someone acting as our eyes and ears,' looking out for the best interests of the church, and taking care of questions or issues that can come up," he says. At the same time, there are some elements of hosting events that just take time to learn, according to Tjaarda. "One of those is making sure the room the church provides winds up being the right size for the group renting the space," he notes.
"Sometimes a group will come in and tell us they are going to have an event with 700 people," he explains. "And we say great, we have an auditorium that holds up to 1,200 that will work just right and then the day of the event they bring in 300 people." Avoiding and/or fixing situations like this requires flexibility, as well as lots of communication between the church and the individuals in charge of the event right up to the point in time when the event begins, according to Tjaarda, adding "everybody needs to be on their best game."
"A True Joy "
At the end of the day, the success of a church hosting program is basically a matter of offering venues that provide groups with great experiences. "We always want to make sure that the groups holding events here feel like they matter, and that their events feel special," says Tjaarda. Indications show that Yellow Box Community Christian has been successful in this aspect.
"We've groups that schedule with us annually in fact, we're now in our third year for some events," Tjaarda says. "It's great that these groups want to come back, and especially that they feel we are giving them real value for what they are giving us to use the space," he says, "and we're looking forward to hosting even more events as we learn more about how to do it." "It's been a true joy to share our space," Tjaarda adds. "It is wonderful space that we feel blessed to have, and it would be a real tragedy if we weren't able to share it with our community."