Church or Landlord?


At what point does a congregation shift from being a church to becoming a landlord?

Many of our congregations – for financial reasons – rent out space to other congregations and non-profit organizations.  A couple of initial thoughts about this:

  • Charging rent to other not-for-profit organizations seems to be the antithesis of partnership.  If my congregation believes that A) our building is a tool for ministry and B) the ministry to addicts, abuse victims, and children is aligned with our mission, then charging rent or expecting “a donation” feels a bit mercenary.
  • If we charge rent to an organization, we cannot claim their work as “part of our ministry.”  I recently visited a congregation and asked about their mission outreach into the community and they shared a long list of organizations that meet in their building.  “Do you know them?” I asked.  “Who are their leaders, their participants, and how do you connect with them personally?”  Needless to say, their only connection is a transactional relationship involving keys and a rent check.

So, assuming your congregation rents space to a preschool or a counseling center or a support group for PTSD victims or another congregation . . . at what point in funding your church’s budget do you become more of a landlord than a church?

My brilliant colleague EH and I discuss this often.  Has your congregation declined from being a church to being a landlord if your budget is 97% rent-subsidized?  80%?  50%?  25%?

Jesus didn’t die for this.  Jesus didn’t give up his sweet life to endlessly prop up ineffective ministry or to perpetuate an institution that is sentimentally dear to our hearts.  That is not ministry.  That’s real estate management. (No offense to real estate professionals.)

So this Lenten season is an excellent opportunity to be brave followers of Jesus.  Are we willing to give up our buildings for the sake of the gospel?

If my particular church no longer has the capacity to serve the community and beyond in the name of Jesus, imagine leaving a legacy that would serve the community and beyond for years to come.   Who will be the first leader to say these words:

“I believe we are called to sell this building and give the proceeds to a congregation that can be what we can no longer be.”

These are not sad words.  They are not the words of a loser or a failed Christian.  These are holy, imaginative, faithful words.

For the love of God – literally – please consider your congregation’s ministry with a new set of metrics:

  • How many people are being touched by the Holy through the work of our church?
  • How are we serving our “partners” in ministry (i.e. people using our building) apart from renting them space?
  • How do we love Jesus more than we love our building and property?

And for what it’s worth, I’d love to hear your opinion on the percentage of the operating budget can be fulfilled by rent before a church stops being a church.  Is it 10%?  50%? 100% (or something in between.)  Please share your wisdom here or on Facebook. Thanks.



17 responses to “Church or Landlord?

  1. It’s a constant refrain: “We have to keep going because so many groups meet in our building.” And not one of those congregations has any contact or involvement or outreach to that group. And don’t get me started on churches who have preschools/Head Start in their buildings and still say, “We don’t have any children/youth in our church.” My answer is: you surely do, Monday through Friday. Those are your kids. How will you reach out to them, even if they never step foot in your sanctuary on Sunday morning?” This is an important post, because this is the way in which congregations are managing to hang on to their buildings and it just isn’t ministry. Coincidentally, this is one of the issues I’ll be touching upon in a NEXT Church workshop tomorrow. Timely! 🙂


  2. What about the idea that renting space to an organization that is aligned with your values, and part of that relationship includes them contributing to the expenses of the space?


  3. So we should never rent the building at all?


    • Not necessarily. But why are we doing it? To pay our own congregation’s bills? To reach out into the community? To have a deeper relationship with another ministry? Unfortunately the primary relationship between many of our churches and renters is purely about creating another stream of income to keep a struggling church with a building afloat.


  4. I also posted this on FB. I appreciate the opportunity for discussion on this topic.

    Our congregation has come to understand that our building is a gift from previous generations we receive and use as a resource to serve our neighbors for G-d’s sake.

    To that end, we have been extending the invitation for broader use by groups who share our priorities of health, well-being, learning, growing, and building community relationships. Our facility is more heavily used Monday-Friday than it is on weekends (the opposite of many church schedules).

    We host 7 AA meetings, 2 NA meetings (the only ones in town), scouts, adults with disabilities come to do job training and to get exercise, other adults who come to play, a school program for kids who are not thriving in traditional settings, a couple of folks who are starting their own businesses and need a commercial kitchen, music lessons and practice sessions, as well as our 25-yr old after school program. We partner with and host an ecumenical community dinner.

    Our partnerships invite the non-profits to make donations and the for-profits to donate 10%. When we have twice nested Hispanic ministries and were asked about our rental fees, we told them what we say to members, “Contribute as G-d leads you to give. G-d blesses what we give.”

    This is evangelism. It is hospitality. It is partnership and friendship. We have a reputation in town. This is faithful.


  5. Excellent!!! We do not have anyone renting, but have partners who agree on mission broadly. If they agree with a patrtnership then they get a reasonable fee for participation. I suspect that most do the rent model because they have to put in more work otherwise. Partnership is a lot of work and will usually become the responsibility of the hired hands or one committee chair. This is at the center of the struggle toward a new idea of community.


  6. I’m very interested in the question and want to probe deeper. Questioning the deployment of any church asset should be taken seriously. Why do churches “own” real estate at all? I would like the idea to be joined by us all.


    • Churches own buildings to be tools for ministry. Our doors should rarely be locked. Our parking lots – if we have them – should rarely be empty.

      But our buildings are not moneymakers to keep a dying ministry alive. Does this make sense in terms of the difference?


  7. Jan, I appreciate your challenges here. As the pastor of a church with upwards of 75 rooms that was built as “The Community House” those are challenges we are well aware of.
    But suppose you do know the people who work in your building. Suppose you do partner with them to do a community event or to benefit a hunger program in your neighborhood. Suppose you only “rent” to groups who will contribute to the “spirit” of your building. Suppose all the non-profits had to pay market-rate rent somewhere else. Suppose your building becomes a place where people from India and Eritrea and Nepal and Iran and b&r Chicagoans of different races and religions interact. Suppose you also give space free of charge to organizations offering free programs that enhance the lives of children and youth.
    Obviously, your post hit a cord with me and I’m defensive. But I don’t think it’s as black and white as “give away space or sell your building”. If our only mission was what the non-profits in our building do, that would be a different story.
    Please don’t paint us all with the same broad strokes. Each church, like each person, is unique.


    • And one more…suppose people who come to the builing regularly with one of the non-profits begins to come to worship saying, “Because of what I’ve experienced in this building, I want to be with the group of people who have this vision.” It doesn’t happen often enough, but it happens.


  8. Thanks Barb for all this. You affirm what I was saying.

    There is a difference between a church being a community center with true partnerships and a church being a real estate opportunity. Your congregation is most definitely a community center with real relationships going both ways – members and former members involved in those partnerships and those partnerships bringing people into your community. I was talking in this post about churches that solely have a renting relationship involving a check and keys. I know congregations whose doors are basically shut except for groups who come and go – with no connection to each other – using a building for rental space. There is no conversation about community building. They have no relationship.

    We don’t have enough churches like yours that serve the broader community. I completely agree that our congregations grow because of the difference we make in the community. A question I would like us to ask each other is, “If this church disappeared, who would notice?”


  9. There’s a lot of great points brought up in this post, and in the comments.

    I’ve actually spent a fair amount of time considering topics like this; having served on both a Mission Study Committee, and working as a Small Group Leader in PC(U.S.A.)’s New Beginnings process.

    I think by focusing on the financial realities (possibly) stealing from the church’s mission you’re at risk of becoming a bit narrow in your perception. Taken too far down this road you have to consider whether having a minister on the payroll, grounds keeper, music leader, or church secretary on the payroll is a violation of Christ intent. I’m not sure many would agree with those things being true.

    I suppose in my view “partnering” with those organizations is in many ways an extension of that thought process. Although I’d give some serious thought to whether your church has a true relationship with these organizations, or if they are just taking up space.


  10. Our church both rents and partners. We inherited a building situation where the full-time use of the building by a school for 30+ years nearly put the congregation out of business. We asked them to leave because they tied up too much space – they found a much more appropriate situation. We are very serious about bringing people to Christ, and touching our communities with justice and mercy. But while we are growing in that direction, we still have an expensive building. We rent to another church with whom we worship and,feast several times,a year (and they send their kids,to our Sunday school ). We host scouts, 12-step and other groups on a donation basis. We didn’t build this building but it is an asset. We do think God has called us to keep going. I am inclined to think you might need to get to know more churches in this situation before making sweeping generalizations.


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  12. You raise an important question. The critical point is the point at which those controlling the purse strings get focused, whether they realize it or not, on being a landlord to meet the budget instead of a focus on the church’s mission. Taking our eye off the ball certainly happens when rentals are >50% of the budget but could occur at as little as 20-25%. Mere activity (rental management) substitutes for real mission.


  13. Patricia Bender

    I don’t think there is a conflict in charging for our space if it is being used for the good of the community. If we can charge below market price which gives a break to a good cause or person a chance to serve, what’s wrong with that? Nothing is really “free”. I’m guessing I would be concerned about our budget if/when 50% of budget has to come from charges.
    Sell our property and join with another congregation? I could live with that if I knew that many of my friends were going to be there. People just have a hard time with change, and the reality is that change is taking place every day, every minute!
    I’m ready for whatever happened happens…just need some time to take it in


  14. Pingback: What Do You See? I See a Resurrected Church | achurchforstarvingartists

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