Church property and facilities — often financial liabilities for small congregations — can provide vital sources of income, participants at the 2022 Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly learned.
Two pastors, a preschool director and a community ministry leader helped CBF roll out a new resource — “Sacred Spaces Innovative Places: Reimagining Church Property and Facilities as Assets” — in Dallas on June 30.
“We’ve spent a year studying what to do with the facilities and assets that so many churches have that feel more like a burden than a blessing,” said Rickey Letson, congregational resource manager for the CBF. “Facilities are increasingly expensive to maintain and many churches have fewer members. Thus, they face rising expenses and falling income.
“We asked, ‘Is there a way to see church facilities and assets as a benefit rather than a burden?'”
The answer is an emphatic yes, he said, and panelists illustrated three of Sacred Spaces Innovative Places’ seven passive-to-active stories.
Space to spare
When Mark Buhlig became pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Gladstone, Missouri, seven and a half years ago, “it became clear there was some urgency,” he said. Like a multitude of congregations, Englewood struggled to maintain facilities several times larger than the small church needed.
Eventually, Buhlig met with Cathy McIntire, executive director of A Turning Point, a growing new community ministry housed in undersized facilities in a nearby town. As Englewood struggled financially due to the demands of its facilities, A Turning Point could not expand to meet the needs of the area as it lacked space.
“We created a relationship that turned into a collaboration,” Buhlig said. The Englewood campus comprised five buildings, while A Turning Point overflowed its single building. “We couldn’t reach the homeless or expand education and job training opportunities for adults,” McIntire noted. “And although we had ambition and passion, we didn’t have the level of energy to do what they wanted to do,” Buhlig added.
So Englewood invited A Turning Point to its campus and recently donated all the property to the nonprofit organization. The church became the tenant of its facilities and A Turning Point became the owner of a space to fulfill its purpose.
“Their generosity became a gift for our future,” McIntire said. “They allowed the ATP to assess and dream for the future, with space to do what is needed.”
The change has also been a blessing for Englewood, Buhlig pointed out. For example, when McIntire told her that A Turning Point wanted to move her pantry to the church sanctuary, “I almost hugged her,” he said. “It gave us permission to rethink what worship might look like. We now meet in a circle. … When you sit there on Sunday morning, you look (across the circle) at the face of Christ.
And now members see a day center, a clothes closet, a pantry, and the base for other ministries in buildings they once struggled to maintain. “Seven years ago I would have said, ‘There’s no way. But now our church has a new heritage and a pride for the future,’” Buhlig said.
A Church Learns to Cultivate a New Way
Opportunity spurred First Baptist Church in Mount Olive, North Carolina toward innovation and a new understanding of “agriculture,” explained Pastor Dennis Atwood.
In 2003, a church member, a childless farmer, died and “left everything he had to FBC for the benefit of the church,” Atwood said. “He didn’t spend money freely, so he accumulated a lot – stocks, cash, houses and land.”
The church sold part of the land and leased plots for agricultural purposes. But then he received a proposal to lease two of the plots for solar farming.
“It’s important to shift people’s mentality from scarcity to abundance. The Spirit will overwhelm us if we pay attention to opportunities.
“It was no small task to convince the congregation to buy into solar farming,” Atwood acknowledged. “But we have been patient, deliberate and transparent. We communicated too much about everything, so no one felt like we were trying to do anything under the table.
Today, the church owns 38 and 39 acre solar farms. “They’ll be there at least 25 years,” he said. “Another 100 acres are traditionally farmed. … It has been a great source of income for the church.
He added, “It is important to shift people’s mentality from scarcity to abundance. The Spirit will overwhelm us if we pay attention to opportunities.
A generative kindergarten
In the past three years since Danielle Simone became director, the 50-year-old early childhood development center has become a vital source of funding for River Road Church, Baptist in Richmond, Virginia.
The transformation has happened by integrating the preschool more closely with the pastoral ministry of the church, but also by listening to the children’s parents and providing the services they want, Simone said.
“Effective communication is vital. And the pastoral staff and the administration are very much involved in the planning,” she noted.
“A kindergarten can seem like a financial drain on a church. Sometimes it is,” she conceded. “But we are concerned about our fiscal responsibility to the church. A business should be run like a business. If you are going to have a preschool, you need to know how much each place in your school costs.
In addition to the basic curriculum, preschool offers 15 “enrichments” – special programs, such as tutoring, sports lessons and seasonal activities – throughout the year.
“Were very à la carte with our offerings,” Simone said. “Parents love it because they don’t have to ferry the kids to other activities.”
The Early Childhood Development Center surveys families about enrichments each year, making adjustments based on what parents say their children want and need. “Knowing your community is very important, and learning how to communicate with millennials is important,” she said.
More preschool families in River Road are not attending church, she said. “But if you ask the kids, they say they go to the River Road church. When you have a nursery school, you have a second congregation. This opens up new possibilities for the ministry.
And in the case of River Road, the preschool contributes to the church – providing 20% of its $2 million budget to the church budget.
The Sacred Spaces, Innovative Places resource offers further illustrations of how congregations generate income by selling land, renting parking lots, and making facilities available to other congregations and ministries.
Letson and co-author Kelly Rhodes Adams plan to update and expand the resource in a second edition, he said.
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