Church as Community Center

I loved all the comments about renting church space and it’s clear that I wasn’t clear for some in this post.  So I’ll try to clarify.

(Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto Rome Piazza del Popolo.

Church A has 40 members.  They have an old building that needs some maintenance.  On Sunday mornings about 20 of the 40 members gather for worship with a guest preacher because they do not have the funds to hire a pastor part-time much less full-time.

After they leave worship, another congregation begins to arrive.  That congregation is Not Like Them but they needed a place to gather and they pay $1000 a month.  They might be a different ethnicity or worship style.  Maybe they are younger. Maybe they don’t speak English as a first language or at all.  This gathering is larger and after worship, there are classes or a meal with about 200 souls.  They return for a Bible study on Wednesday night and a prayer meeting on Friday mornings.

Church A also hosts an AA group on Monday nights that makes a donation of $50 each week.  And there’s a private preschool  that pays $2500 a month with 60 families involved. Church A also rents their parking lot for $1000 month to a construction company Monday – Friday.  Members have no relationship or even face time with their assorted renters beyond the exchange of rent checks and keys.

Church B has 40 members.  They have an old building that needs some maintenance.  On Sunday mornings about 30 of their members gather for worship along with assorted visitors  – sometimes as many as 20 or 30 – who are interested in possibly being a part of a congregation that does what this congregation does the rest of the week.  They have a full-time pastor – although it’s not easy pulling that off and sometimes they have to dip into their savings.

After worship, there is a community dinner and people off the street who were not in worship join them.  They might be a different ethnicity or worship style – or no worship style.  Maybe they are younger. Maybe they are older.  Maybe they don’t speak English as a first language or at all.

Church B’s doors are rarely locked and their lights are rarely turned off.  They regularly host local choral groups, assorted support groups (Veterans, Parents of Disabled Children, unemployed neighbors, formerly incarcerated women), Noontime Group Spiritual Direction, and offices for advocacy groups working against homelessness and domestic abuse.  These groups may or may not make financial donations to the church, but the church still has a connection with them.  Four times a year, church volunteers set up an espresso bar in the lobby and serve fancy coffee to their guests as they come and go to thank them for their ministry.  About twice a year, the church invites everybody who uses their building to help with a painting project followed by a picnic in the parking lot. (Neighbors who can’t paint come over for the picnic too.)  Church leaders know the names of the people who come in and out and they openly invite people to share prayer concerns on a chalk board in the hall.  Before the support group for Parents, the pastor pokes her head in sometimes and reminds the parents that their kids are more than welcome to come to Movie Night this Friday with some church kids or to the parenting book group on Sunday mornings.  There’s a preschool and although it’s a separate 501c3 and the preschool pays $2500 each month, the pastor is a well-known face among the students and teachers. She leads a weekly chapel service that reminds the children that they are loved by God and the deacons host a welcome-back-to-school coffee for the parents every August.  The church supports ten scholarships for local children whose parents could otherwise not afford preschool.  And there’s a free Parents’ Day Out four Saturdays a year for the preschool parents staffed by trained and vetted church education volunteers with Vacation Bible School-ish activities.

Which church is a landlord and which is a community center?  And which church would be missed if it vanished from the neighborhood?

Having a church building to use for ministry is a privilege.  Are we using it to the glory of God?  Or are we using it to perpetuate our own institution?

Image is of the twin church buildings Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria di Montesanto which stand beside each other in the Piazza del Popolo in Rome. Pope Alexander VII commissioned their construction and they were designed by Carlo Rainaldi in the mid-17th Century.


3 responses to “Church as Community Center

  1. Thanks for the clarification, Jan!


  2. We are the child of Church A and Church B. We meet with 75 – 125 in worship each week in a building situated to hold 375. Our education wing was built when there were 3 weekly services for 1200 members and 450 children; frankly, that wing looks like the average high school did in 1935. The building has been reasonably maintained, but the 30 year old boiler is beginning to die, the sandstone walls are wicking moisture into the plaster inner walls, and the 66 year old casement windows are well rusted. We have no central air.

    We share space with three non profit agencies. They reimburse us the cost of having that space (total square footage of all the usable space divided into our building expenses) which is roughly 30% of what the same space would cost them if they were renting commercially. Each of these agencies share a portion of our mission; one teaches English as a second language, one offers senior citizens volunteers to drive them to appointments and check in on them, and the third matches volunteer adult “tutors” with young students at the under achieving school down the street.

    We also share space with the local school district whose early childhood education program for children at risk meets in our huge ground floor level. The school district pays us less than it costs us to have the space, but more than we’d get if the space were unused.

    We are known in the community as a place to meet. We are a popular venue for weddings (the only place within this immediate area who will welcome anyone who wishes to be married), showers and parties, community gatherings, social agencies staff trainings, and the like. Yes, we do charge for the use of our space; but the fees are small and just enough to cover the cost of the heat and janitorial work required to host.

    Our own ministries that happen within the building include a Conservatory of music that pays for itself and provides scholarships to student otherwise unable to take music lessons; an every Saturday meal program that is funded by donations; a couple of moms and tots groups, and the usual Sunday stuff with children, youth, seniors, and everything in between. We have much more ministry that happens outside the walls of the church building.

    Then we have 6 twelve step groups of various flavors, a mental health support group, and a grief support group.

    While most members do not know every group or organization that uses our space, our staff do. As the pastor, I know almost all the group leaders and nearly every one of the guests of our Saturday Meals Program. Of course, I also know most the the merchants in the neighborhood, the elected leaders, and lead the community ministerial gatherings.

    Our goal is to share the space at cost with those who would normally pay “rent” any where else. Our goal is to have this source of income meet 60% of the building’s expenses…. and if we ever make that goal, this would meet 45% of our church’s total budget.

    So, as in the comments in the previous post, there is much gray between the community center and the landlord. We are clearly both. We could not exist without the support of outside groups; our building is too large for the remnant of the 1950’s church. Our mission is too large to stay within the building. And our member-giving is too small to keep the building to ourselves. It’s 50 shades of gray.


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