For church planters, Where do we meet? is a top-of-mind question. You can start in homes, but eventually most church planters realize they need a public place to gather for worship.
When I first started dreaming about planting my first church, I suddenly looked at every place I went with new eyes. I’d evaluate very bookstore, restaurant, brewery, office building, coworking space, theater and reception hall I went to, thinking “Maybe a church could meet here–but I wonder what we’d do with kids?”
Honestly I don’t think I’ve ever stopped thinking like that when I walk into places. And now that we’re planting again, we just had to think through this issue recently. We just landed on a new spot for worship, and I want to share some of that journey.
Here are four pro tips to finding the right space.
1. Don’t force it
Before I talk a bit about our process, I want to say that there are lots of different places that could work as a place for your church plant to meet.
So how do you decide what to pursue? When to hold out for something better and when to compromise? And what do you compromise on? Location vs. price vs. relationship vs. capacity vs. amenities vs. setup/teardown effort— it’s a lot to sort out![Tweet “It’s easy for us church planters to get carried away by our idealism.”]
Before we talk about those questions, let me just say the one thing you do not want to do is this: Get a good idea and make it happen. That’s rule number 1: Don’t force it!
It’s easy for us church planters to get carried away by our idealism. We have a vision of our church plant in our heads and it’s difficult to let go of it and actually plant in the real world sometimes.
Sometimes our good ideas close off our thinking to doors that are standing open right in front of us, because the open door doesn’t look like the good idea I have in my head!
So don’t get attached to the cool ideas you have about where your church will meet! Stay open to what God will show you.
2. Start with relationships
The first place we met for public worship was a brewery/used bookstore (just as cool as it sounds!).
The reason we met there was that my co-pastor and I had established some relationships at the brewery—for purely “missional” reasons, of course—and had joined a membership program there that gave us a few perks every time we came.
As we began to discern the need for our church community to move into a rhythm of worship, meeting once a month, we decided to talk with the owner about meeting at the brewery, since they didn’t open until noon on Sundays.
They were up for this, and we dove in. They had a larger room for gathering and a library-esque room that we did kids’ ministry in.
They opened and served lunch right after our service ended, too, so some of us would always stick around afterward and have lunch together. It worked out pretty well for a few months.
So the second pro tip I’d give to church planters looking for a place to meet is: Start in a brewery.
Just kidding. This is the actual pro tip: Start with relationships.
Be intentional about meeting people and talking about what you’re doing and see what ideas pop into your head, or others’ heads, and explore them!
3. Look for grace
This part has a Part A and a Part B. Part A is look for grace and follow it. Look for the open doors, the timely movement of the spirit, and follow those opportunities.
Part B is to know when grace moves and time starts to run out.
So we met in the brewery for a few months, but a couple things happened that made us think that we might need to look for something else. Indications that the grace might be running out.
The first thing was that we knew we were heading toward worshiping every week, but the brewery would be a bit costly if we needed to rent it every week. We floated the idea of reducing our payment, but they stuck firm at the original rate.[Tweet “Don’t assume every relationship will work. Look for people of peace.”]
The second thing was that they changed the time they opened on Sundays to 11am. This meant our service had to move an hour earlier. Not too big a deal, but it did make things more difficult for us on the Sundays we worshiped.
Weighing those two things together, it was starting to feel like it wasn’t that much of a mutual partnership (which is fine, by the way – not everyone will be a person of peace to you!). But one of the ways we notice what God is doing is by looking for grace in a relationship, looking for a person of peace, and we were discerning that the owner of the brewery wasn’t.
Don’t assume that just because there has been grace that there always will be. Notice if the people are people of peace, and if they continue to be open that kind of relationship.
4. Don’t be afraid to experiment
So as we thought and prayed and brainstormed about where to meet, we went back to relationships. We called a pastor who had befriended us when we first moved to the area and has done nothing but love us since then.
(Seriously I get a little teary-eyed when I think about him. I love him a lot.)
We had lunch, caught up on life, talked about our marriages and kids, and then we told him where we were at in terms of needing space to meet on Sundays, etc. We talked about using his building, but it was looking like it wasn’t going to be an option for a few different reasons.
We were getting ready to leave when he said, “Have you guys ever talked with Greg about using his space?”
“Who’s Greg?” we asked.
Long story short: Greg leads a prayer ministry that meets in the same office complex as our pastor friend’s church. We scheduled lunch with Greg, and sensed an immediate connection in terms of our values and heart for ministry.
And we found out they have a prayer room that holds 75 people or so, with sound/video equipment already there (no setup!), along with nursery/classroom space, and they never meet on Sunday mornings since they have a heart to serve the church as opposed to become a church. And they liked us too and were willing to let us use the space for a price that worked for our budget.
It’s important to note that while there’s a lot we like about the space, in some ways it’s not ideal. It’s a good 15 minute drive away from where most of our people live, in a neighboring community, so it’s not super incarnational in that sense.
But we sensed an openness in relationship, we noticed grace and an opportunity to partner.
No need to be an expert
As our church grows, I’m sure we’ll be needing another place to meet that can hold a few more people. So this is an ongoing process for us.
I’m actually not very good at this kind of thing (finding places to meet), and that’s good news, because it means that you don’t need to be either. I hope that’s comforting for you.
So if you’re a church planter and you’re thinking about finding a place to meet, don’t forget these four pro tips:
- Don’t force it
- Start with relationships
- Look for grace
- Don’t be afraid to experiment
Also, I’m curious: where’s the strangest place you’ve seen a church plant meet?
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