Many of our congregations have renters in their buildings who help them pay the bills.  Some of those congregations are under the impression that the mission of the renters = the mission of the church.  This is not necessary so.

I once served a church who started a computer training program for undereducated adults. They set up their own 501c3 but they were a mission of our church.  They never paid rent.  We were not using them to help support the church.  The church chose to support them because they helped the neighbors in extraordinary ways.

We have countless churches today who rent space to everyone from non-profit offices to Girl Scouts to training classes to other (often immigrant) congregations, and then they claim the mission of those organizations as one of their own mission projects.  The truth is that they have no relationship with those organizations except that they help pay for the utilities or salaries.

Churches that pay for their ministries via renters are dying congregations.  Yes, that’s a sweeping generalization, but I believe it’s true.  It’s one thing to discern a need in the neighborhood and then serve that need by establishing a non-profit.  It’s quite another thing to find renters (even if we call them “partners”) who help pay the mortgage/utlities with whom we have no real relationship much less a partnership.

Mainline congregations have property.  We might not have growing churches, viable ministries, healthy communities, or equipped congregations for a 21st Century mission, but we have real estate.  And often that property has faulty heating and dated plumbing.  The location might or might not be in an enviable location.  But we need help to keep those properties.

What is the future of spiritual communities with large buildings?  Often they are historic spaces.  Sometimes they are merely dated spaces in failing neighborhoods.  Even if there are active congregations still using those spaces, the neighbors often believe that those churches are closed.

Are we willing to let go of those buildings?  Can we acknowledge that we can no longer sustain those spaces?  Is it a mistake to sell the buildings?

I’d love to know what you think?  Does your congregation rent space to other organizations?  And do you know each other?

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6 responses to “Landlords

  1. I strongly agree with you regarding organizations with a similar Christian mission – we have had “rent-free tenants” (incubating churches, Head-Start, etc.) in our church property and only asked that they take an occasional offering or make a donation towards utilities or carpet cleaning – and we do not specify the amount. The result has been that the “tenants” treat our property as though it was their own, and there has been very little wear and tear; they become partners in the upkeep of the building through the offering/donation as they are able; and we have been able to maintain a mission-partner relationship after they moved out. On the other hand, I have been in congregations where rent was charged, and there were many complaints from both sides – both tenants and landlords have “rights” and expectations with regard to property maintenance; it gives a priority to ownership that ends up being a hindrance to mission. Could we have been taken advantage of by our “rent free tenants” – certainly. But without a formal lease, we are forced to negotiate a better relationship – or else we are free to end the relationship without the necessity of eviction, attorneys, courts, etc. Finally, I can’t envision a church wanting to rent their property to a group that was merely 501c3 – the mission of the tenant should mesh with the mission of the Kingdom of God – otherwise, I would not share the property for the benefit of any organization that was not in agreement with that (those who are not for us are against us).


  2. I almost always agree with your posts, Jan, but not this one. Too sweeping. Pilgrims would be dead by now if we didn’t have paying tenants. We have a small, vital congregation with a building larger than we need. So instead of renting space in someone else’s building (as a lot of new starts do), we rent space in our building to others. By asking our tenants to pay a fair market rate, we were able to turn our building from a millstone around our necks to a resource for ourselves and others. I think of what I do as part-time tent-making: Part of my time each week is spent managing the resource of this building that we inherited. If we were starting a new church, we wouldn’t build this building. But now that we have it, we had to figure out how to make it work for us. Now the congregation supports our mission and ministry with their giving. The building (on an annual basis, at least), pays for itself.


    • But . . . Jeff, knowing you, I’m guessing you have a relationship with the tenants. And your church continues to participate in paying for salaries, mission projects, education, etc. rather than relinquish all financial responsibilities to the paying tenants.

      I totally get that having a building that pays for itself is excellent and have no problem with this. But yours is not a dying congregation because your people are engaged in the ministry. My problem is with those churches who do nothing besides house the Scouts, AA, the immigrant church, etc. and consider those landlord relationships to be the whole of their ministry together.

      Thanks for the feedback.


  3. 5% of our budgeted income comes from renters. The four partners in ministry are a licensed day care, a pre-school, the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus, and a youth choir program with multiple choirs. All of them fit into our mission and ministry. We build relationship with them and at the same time, stay out of their way. From my “business” sense, we charge them rent to assist in covering the cost of our custodial staff. We would staff somewhat differently if these four groups were not in our building. From our theological sense, 11% of what we receive from renters goes into our mission budget. When a pastor says, if we lose our renter(s), we could not afford our current staff, that often is a sign that its time to be creative with land resources.


  4. Linda Stewart-Kalen–Sharing space is tricky. Power imbalances are often apparent. However– the sweeping generalizations here are troubling even as the overall jest is great food for thought. When our community offers a place to stand for musicians, artists, children’s programs, health minisitries, etc. we often free those communities to put their energy into healing and wellbeing and their mission rather than maintenance. Having a relationship and shared goals is essential. Through the building partnerships our congregation engages in, we have a share (not the whole thing, not control) in ministries that would not be possible all on our own. We have only a part of the ministry– relationships and shelter, while others have expertise we cannot match and relationships we do not yet have. The care of the building for the service of others means we are using what we have to further the work others feel called to. Through these relationships we have an opportunity to build trust that allows for conversations, and common commitments. Our primary ministry that stems from caring for this space we are entrusted with for the sake of what God is doing in the lives of other communities is a flexible tailored placement for those with barriers to completing community service rather than incarceration. Our members can be flexible with designing the tsks to fit those with medical limitations that prevent them from having success in any other placement. They are thrilled to be part of making a space for good things to happen in our neighborhood. The building use fees are a share in our common cause and, yes, they do cover building costs beyond the means of a tiny congregation unwilling to wait until we can be self sufficient to engage the issues that surround us. Intentional relationships with organizations that share the five mission and minsitry avenues that express our understanding of God’s working in our own community have been one key componet of our living our faith no– not when we get bigger, or more financially stable. Small membership congregations often have a building to offer communities that have no place to stand.


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