If you are a multi-site church, chances are that at least one of your locations is in a facility you do not own. For us, we currently have just over half of our eleven campuses in rented / leased / borrowed spaces: one middle school, two high schools, two prisons, and a historic downtown theater.
There are obvious perks to being in a non-traditional church building: we’ve had guests who told us they came to our church specifically because we didn’t have the trappings of church tradition as they knew it. We’ve had the opportunity to build great relationships with school teachers and building managers and community leaders…relationships we may not have had if we weren’t shoulder-to-shoulder with them on their turf.
But there’s a huge drawback of not being permanent residents of the buildings we’re in: portable facilities can mean poorer standards. For example: I can no longer smell Country Linen Lysol without thinking back years ago to our first non-owned campus. Why? Because we emptied two Costco-sized cans of that stuff every weekend, just to cover up the funky smell of a high school gym. (It’s hard to worship when everything around you smells like feet.)
So when I’m “grading” our campuses on standards, there’s a sense in which I do so with their context in mind. Buildings we own and buildings we don’t should be buildings we take care of. But there’s a difference in assuming responsibility for the building at 6 AM Sunday, and maintaining responsibility 24/7. Here are a few key things that might be different in portable vs. permanent:
This one is obvious. There’s only so much you can control prior to showing up on Sunday. High school parking lots are often going to contain a week’s worth of fast food wrappers and discarded classroom handouts. Restrooms may possess…um…content that hasn’t been flushed since sometime on Friday. Auditoriums may have sticky spills or leftover programs. So plan for these things. Make sure that a part of your set-up team’s role is to do a quick sweep of the property and clean up as much as they can. They likely won’t be able to get it all, but they should aim to leave the place better than they found it.
Whether your portable facility is in a theater, a public school, or even borrowed from another church, you are going to have environmental cues that are at best inconsistent with your message, and at worst a massive distraction from your message. It’s hard to do kids ministry with a raunchy movie poster looming in the background. So you need to get in the habit of asking the “What’s acceptable?” and “What’s fixable?” questions? For us, the raunchy-movie-poster campus wasn’t acceptable, but we knew that removing the posters wasn’t an option. So one of our team members came up with a genius fix…kid-friendly posters that snapped over the existing frames, covering movie previews with ministry plumb lines.
Here’s the thing about portable…ya gotta be portable (you may want to jot that stellar insight down somewhere). Whatever you load in has to be loaded out, and often has to be loaded out on a schedule that’s tighter than you might be comfortable with. Lobby casework may have to be replaced by folding tables. A welcome center may have to give way to a pop up tent. The bookstore may have to forego a few hundred titles in favor of a few. But portable fixtures don’t have to mean poor quality. Invest in good signage and good materials. Keep what you have clean and polished. Don’t let the set up nature of a campus set you up to skimp on quality.
If you’re a multi-site leader, what are some differences you allow for at your mobile sites?