My experience as a missionary, executive pastor, and now CEO of Portable Church Industries confirms a bold statement Timothy Keller made in his Why Plant Churches white paper, "The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1) the numerical growth of the Body of Christ in any city and 2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city."
The United Methodist Church knows this, for example. In 2010, they published a seven vision pathways paper entitled "The Future of the United Methodist Church." Focus Area 1 is Creating New Places for New People by Starting Congregations. Their conclusion? "The only way we will reach the unchurched is by planting new churches where the people are."
But how can churches quickly and effectively launch new campuses and new churches when the costs, upkeep, and space limitations of permanent campuses sometimes get in the way? They rent alternative venues in the communities they want to reach.
Why? Here are four main reasons:
Redeeming Public Space & Community Involvement
We live in an increasingly post-Christian culture. For many, "holy buildings" can be intimidating. Rather than ask people to "come to us" portable churches get to "go to them" and use spaces that are used throughout the week by the people you are trying to reach. As more and more churches launch in rented spaces, finding the right facility often requires more effort.
Another opportunity rented venues provide is partnerships with the landlord or community at large. One great example of someone who values community partnership is Jordan Rice, the lead pastor of Renaissance Church which launched in a Harlem, New York city school. He offers some excellent counsel, "I can't emphasize how important it is to be known as the type of church that exists to help others. The principals and staff at our schools should know you by how much you're willing to serve the school and community with no strings attached. That type of love is permanent even if you're a portable church."
It is hard to know what size shoe to buy when you don't know the size of your foot. Growing your church in a portable venue where the overhead is very low allows you to run the church on about 20% of the income compared to a permanent building so that other money can be leveraged toward its future. Down the road, maybe in 3-5 years, after a strong, steady congregation is developed, a permanent location can be built/acquired.
Speed, Flexibility, Growth, Reproducible
Compared to building a new campus, rented venues allow you to enter (and possibly exit) a community faster measuring time to open a new location in weeks/months not years. As the needs of your church grow, rented venues are more likely to be able to adjust or change to match your needs. In a period of three years while I was Executive Pastor of Pacific Crossroads Church in Los Angeles, our adult attendance doubled and more families with children began attending. We outgrew two different schools we were renting and ended up in the largest high school in the area. We would have been in serious trouble if we had been in a permanent space.
At the heart of the portable church experience is a group of dedicated volunteers who set up and tear down all the equipment needed to turn the facility into a sacred space each week. As a result, portable churches engage more volunteers and a wider spectrum of people serve on their teams—often more men. The most successful portable churches prepare for launch by engaging experts to design their equipment and systems with the volunteer in mind to maximize the volunteer experience while being efficient and creating an excellent, welcoming environment.
As CEO of Portable Church Industries, a 20-year old company dedicated to assisting churches launch and thrive in alternative venues, I am seeing the fast growing, larger churches choosing to launch new campus where the people are instead of adding onto their main campus. In addition, most all new church plants now begin life in a rented space where they can redeem public space, save money, remain flexible, and engage volunteers.