~~How to Use Your Church Facilities for Outreach
As the body of Christ, the church has been given the awesome privilege of sharing a message to a lost and dying world that there is an option to their “lostness” found in a personal relationship with Jesus. The facilities your church uses are simply tools to share that message. Here are some suggestions on how use your facilities to reach your community for Christ.
• Build for who you want, not for who you’ve got. One of the signs of a declining church is when everything is “about us” and ministry focus turns inward. Facilities in those churches tend to reflect an attempt to protect the church’s internal culture rather than a place for equipping and reaching their community. In designing or remodeling facilities, consider the community you’re trying to impact. What sort of facility would be most effective in training your members to minister to others while at the same time appeal to your target demographic?
• Give attention to upkeep and maintenance. While your church may not be extravagant or “fancy,” there is no excuse for it to not be well-kept and well-maintained. The physical appearance of your facilities may be the first impression you make on an un-churched member. One architect noted, “If your community were to judge your God by the building you worship in, what kind of God would they think you worshipped?”
• Design for worship, but also for ministry and fellowship. Ray Bowman, in his book When Not to Build, states that it is his opinion that it is neither ethical nor financially feasible to design an expensive building that will only be used 3-5 hours a week. As you look at your facilities, look for ways to use them for ministry. Flexibility is the key.
There is a reality many churches failed to grasp: Lost people usually don’t come to church! Why would they? For many, it’s an unfamiliar place they don’t understand and their priorities don’t include church. The only time they may have been in church was for a wedding or funeral.
While they may not normally come, we have discovered that if non-attenders are in your building for other events, they will be more likely to be open to an invitation to attend a church event. Look for opportunities to bring non-members into your facilities. Offer your buildings to host community events and activities. A rural church could allow the local volunteer fire department to use the fellowship hall for an equipment fundraiser. Several Arkansas churches host local sports teams for pre-game meals or awards banquets. Zumba ©, Celebrate Recovery©, and other such activities not only appeal to non-church people, but are excellent tools to convey the Gospel in an informal setting.
I facetiously tell churches that the best thing that could happen to your church would be a tornado, because it gives you an opportunity to minister in a tangible way to your community. Equip your facilities in such a manner that you become the rallying point for any local emergency. Shower facilities, adequate kitchen facilities, and a generator are some tools to consider. Churches like Clinton FBC and Bull Shoals FBC have served as focal points for disaster relief after tornados and ice storms, but it was because they prepared for those events in advance. Most school districts are required to have alternative evacuation sites in the event of an emergency. If your church is near a school, offer your facilities for such a need.
• Become a third place. Sociologist Ray Oldenburg noted that all of us have three places in our life. The first place is our home and the people with whom we live. The second place is where we work and the place we spend the majority of our waking hours. A Third Place is a public setting that hosts regular, voluntary, and informal gatherings of people. It is a place to relax and have the opportunity to know and be known by others. It is a place people like to “hang out.” Starbucks’© entire marketing strategy is built upon the third place concept, and based upon their profit margins, they’ve gotten pretty good at it.
The key to reaching your community is simple. You church can either become a third place, or you discover where the third place in your community is and infiltrate it. In fact, it is not “either/or” but “both/and”. How could your facilities be used for folks to come and fellowship and build relationships with your folks? The community events noted above are one way, but could your facility be adapted to be a local gathering spot? One church in the process of taking that concept to a new level is the Church at Argenta. Their strategy includes the Mugs Café, designed to be a third place for the Argenta neighborhood. Some churches have installed snack bars and coffee shops in their facilities and encouraged members to bring friends for informal gatherings. Others have simply become places where members and others gather before work for coffee and fellowship or in the evening for recreation.
• Focus on going and sharing the Gospel. It has been said that the church should be a gas station and not a garage. We are to fill up and go, not come and park. The Great Commission says to “go and make disciples,” not “come and sit.” The best way your facilities can be used for outreach is to train members to live their faith in their daily lives. Train them to share the gospel. Provide ministry opportunities for members to impact their community for Christ. Continually emphasize the purpose and vision of your church is to impact your community and the world for Christ.
Lynn Riley is a member of the Church Health Team of the ABSC, serving in the areas of Sunday school, church growth, smaller membership churches, and architecture/space analysis. He has served as a pastor, minister of youth and minister of education in Texas, Missouri and Louisiana. Lynn and his wife Cheryl live in Sherwood, are members of Baring Cross Baptist Church, and are the parents of two adult daughters.