Portable + Permanent: A Both/And Solution for Multiplying Your Church
During our Equipping Frontline Leaders series, I connected with Aspen Group’s Ministry Space Strategist Greg Snider and Church Multiplication Specialist Jeff Beachum from Portable Church Industries to discuss how ministries could multiply faster and more affordably by integrating the strengths of permanent and portable church solutions.
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Why do we love talking with Portable Church? We share similar passions. As Greg points out, “They transform environments. They transform cafeterias into these great third places—and stale gymnasiums into dynamic worship environments.” Essentially, what Aspen does for permanent spaces, they do for portable spaces. We are both motivated to create environments where people engage in relationships with one another and with God.
Portable vs Permanent Church
While a church could build or acquire a building for a permanent facility, a portable church often emerges when an established church selects a community and sends a core group of people to start a church plant or multisite location. Typically, they secure a place to rent, like a movie theater, event venue, or school. Portable Church Industries can help them make the process efficient, professional, and quick.
Benefits of Portable
- Often involves community partnerships
- Short-term commitment to space
- Lower overhead/maintenance costs
- Flexible, multipurpose space
- Less intimidating to those who don’t regularly attend church
Benefits of Permanence
- Rooted community presence
- 24/7 dedicated space with multiple hosting opportunities
- Intentional design/fixtures chosen for specific ministry functions (e.g. AV for worship space, guest information center, signage, etc.)
- Can minimize weekly set-up and tear down
Portable Plus Permanent
Portable within permanence is a new, hybrid approach to facilities that values increased flexibility and adaptability to maximize space. “Adaptability is becoming the currency of a new world,” says Greg. “We've experienced this through COVID. There are many advantages to having portable within permanence to make your building more adaptable and ultimately to make your ministry more adaptive.”
What does it look like to combine the best of permanent and portable? A church would purchase or retrofit a building that is theirs permanently, but the system they use to host church involves a portable design and processes, which can open up leaders to fresh possibilities.
Here are four characteristics of Portable + Permanent design:
1. Adaptable Space
“When we do permanent, we often think of dedicated spaces,” says Greg. “We dedicate a room for a purpose and can end up designing facilities that are larger than needed. With adaptability and portability inside of permanence, we can actually do more in less square footage. Your upfront investment is lower because you're not building as much. As we've explored some of these opportunities together, and we're doing a live case study right now, we're seeing that you can do more ministry within a space that's adaptable. Not only are you doing it in less square footage, but the square footage you have is more usable.”
2. Flexible Features
Lately, there has been a positive push to utilize church facilities to benefit the community on a greater scale. One of the challenges for this kind of facility usage has been securing costly tech gear and equipment. Building flexibility into the space would dictate secure storage for gear and flexible placement of tech panels and equipment. “Tech booths take up so much square footage. When we want to convert that space for another ministry use—for the community to come in and set up tables and chairs—that booth takes up some real estate. The ability to move that around changes the conversation about how we can use that kind of space,” notes Greg.
“Another example is in the kids' area, related to the check-in kiosks,” shares Jeff. “They don't need to be relegated just to kids' areas but can be transported to different places in the building for different kinds of events. Or completely removed from the area to create space for other events.”
This approach focuses on increasing the functionality of ministry space and how it can be translated into various purposes, whether it’s event space, a voting center, or a food pantry.
3. Prioritize Possibilities
Designing with portability in mind cultivates new possibilities. It is scenario planning, focusing more on what you might do in the future than taking cues from the past. Making a shift like this requires a commitment to more flexible, innovative solutions. According to Jeff, this can mean releasing certain types of thinking. “It’s really letting go of dedicated space for anything, whether it’s dedicated adult space or dedicated children's space or even dedicated worship space. Worship areas can be designed utilizing portable principles. Then, you’ll be able to flip the worship space, which is a grand opportunity for any community. The church leader might have to let go of the dedicated spiritual, holy space and see the facility more as a tool.”
This also creates new opportunities to go mobile, to load equipment into trailers and take it to another place in the community for a special worship service or community event.
As an example, Greg shares about a multisite church he is working with that is adding a new campus, which is an existing church building. Aspen is collaborating with Portable Church to create a portable-permanent solution for this new location.
“We’re doing an addition and some remodeling to the church; it's going to be their smallest campus,” Greg says. “First and foremost, we needed to be able to do more with the space. Second, the vision is to get to other sites faster, get into this site as quickly as possible, and then think of the next campus and how we would get there.
“The idea is being able to take this church—this new portable church inside a church building they own—and take it outside for a special event. It’s a church on wheels within a fixed building that we could take across the street to the grade school if they wanted to worship in the auditorium, or even have the flexibility to be launching the next campus with part of the solutions they're creating at this campus.”
What can you envision in your space this month? Next year? In three years? The design challenge for portable-permanent is thinking through and imagining the multiple potential uses of one space, and factoring how COVID has potentially shifted some things. Like Winston Churchill said, 'We shape our buildings. Thereafter, they shape us,' if everything is fixed, then we’re assuming we’re going to do things in a certain way," says Greg.
4. Built-In Agility
Jeff adds, “Part of it is trying to design a building or facility not knowing what you don't know and seeing how long you can utilize that building in a fresh state. I love the process that Aspen Group goes through with new churches that are building or renovating. When Greg starts this process, it takes two to three years to get the keys and to start driving that new facility. When they get those keys, it is what it is. But suppose we can make that fresh for 5, 10, or 15 years. In that case, we constantly have the opportunity to make it current with the new ministries our wonderful leaders have been thinking of—that's the kind of deep adaptability goal that we are after.”
5 Questions for Your Team to Consider:
- What kind of ministries do you want to offer the community?
- What kind of relationship do you want to have with your community? How can you develop that even more?
- What would you like to be able to do in the future? What fresh ideas can you explore? (For example, would you want to consider opening up your facility for new purposes like coworking or an event space that would generate revenue to pour back into ministry?)
- How could your building be more of a tool in that process?
- In what way is your building an asset? How is it an obstacle?