Five Solutions for Mobile Churches by Shannon Jirik

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Churches are popping up in schools, community centers, and warehouses. They’re meeting in movie theaters, coffee shops, and even comedy clubs. While many churches plant roots in permanent facilities, more and more are staying mobile by borrowing or renting space.

Derek DeGroot, an architect at Aspen Group, said, “These days, we’re seeing less money invested in design and build. Permanent facilities are, well … permanently costly. Times are changing, and the kinds of facilities churches use are changing, too.”

“We don’t have to worry about the responsibilities and costs of maintaining a building,” said Rachel Wassink, staff apprentice at City of Light Anglican Church, which meets in an elementary school gymnasium in Aurora, Illinois.

According to Currey Blandford, pastor of Life Church, which meets in a park district community center, church leaders with permanent buildings often say they’re jealous of his church, especially when they go through fundraising campaigns. Without the burden of building upkeep, churches like Blandford’s are able to focus on other aspects of ministry.

But the advantage of rented space extends far beyond the financial benefits. Immanuel Anglican Church in Chicago is proud to meet at Uplift High School, where their rent money supports the school’s students, 95 percent of whom live in low-income housing.

Stephanie O’Brien, pastor of Mill City Church, said, “Our mission field is our neighborhood.” For her congregation, this means meeting at a middle school in the heart of Minneapolis. “A school is still a sacred space. God is in that space, too,” she said. “A lot of churches are only in their temporary space until they can find a permanent one. We are where we are because we feel it’s where God is calling us.”

Of course, churches using borrowed or rented space have challenges to overcome. Seating and equipment must be mobile—able to assemble and disassemble quickly. D. J. Jenkins, lead pastor of Anthology Church of Studio City, California, said, “Setup and teardown every Sunday is an enormous and tiring endeavor.” And there are aesthetic issues to consider. Basketball hoops don’t exactly scream worship service. Here’s how these churches make the most of their adapted spaces.

1. Tell your story

How can a mobile church express identity in a space that isn’t designed for them? Creativity and ingenuity are key. DeGroot believes the beauty of borrowed space is that it can adapt: “You’re not spending a lot of time and money designing spaces that may go out of style or become less relevant in five years.” According to Wassink, “The physical space just needs to allow us to express our vision for welcoming others into the presence of the Lord.”

Lynn Pickard, an interior designer at Aspen Group, advised using a backdrop behind the speaker. Something as simple as a black curtain will give the church space intentionality and intimacy. This curtain can be interchanged easily, depending on the sermon theme or liturgical season. It can be accented with simple props, like rugs, plants, candles, or lamps.

Every week, City of Light brings in a wooden cross and an altar draped with fabric. They use curtain backdrops to center the space, and hang decorative banners over the top. For special seasons like Holy Week, they incorporate additional visual arts. These elements help express City of Light’s identity.

Gymnasium lighting isn’t exactly conducive to contemplative services, so for special gatherings, City of Light uses only floor lamps and candles, transforming the school gym into calm, ambient space. Similarly, Life Church uses low-level and colored lighting to make their community center more intimate.

2. Place signs along the way

Invest in signage and wayfinding solutions. How else will people know who you are or where you meet? You may be surprised by the number of visitors who show up because they see the signage. If you partner with a school, ask to cover the school sign with your church banner or put your name on the marquee on Sundays. Place large A-frame signs at nearby intersections, and smaller directional signs along the road, on doors, in your parking lot, or in the hallways. No guest should get lost looking for you.

These pieces don’t have to be extravagant, according to Blandford. Signs will wear out. Life Church uses simple, plastic, white signs with the church’s name and logo, the service time, and an arrow pointing to the community center.

Pickard advises staging greeters in the parking lot and hallways to help people find where the church meets. Many recommend a welcome table with coffee, doughnuts, and space to mingle.

O’Brien sees connection and relationships being fostered another way: online and through a mobile app. A website is often the only place people can go throughout the week for service information. When thinking about hospitality, don’t neglect your true front door: the Google search bar.

Life Church recently launched a new website containing embedded videos of the church services. Now more people are interacting with the website, often the best place to keep people informed about the life of the church.

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Source: Christianity Today