Shut Out by COVID: How to Find a New Church Fast Blog Feature
Joe LaPaglia

By: Joe LaPaglia on September 16, 2020

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Shut Out by COVID: How to Find a New Church Fast

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During my years at Aspen Group, we’ve worked with many churches that meet in schools or leased spaces. Generally, these are church plants with about 150-200 people. Typically, as they grow their ministry, they seek a more permanent location. However, due to COVID-19, many of these church plants are facing a tenuous future. Not only have they had to shut down and pause in-person worship like every other church in America, they’ve also been shut out of their buildings because the school or leased space where they meet hasn’t yet gotten a green light to reopen in the midst of COVID-19.

It’s a complicated world right now and finding a new space during a pandemic can be especially challenging. How can you gather when you have been shut out of the school or leased space you’ve been using?

Quick Turn Solutions

We love creativity when it comes to ministry! We’ve seen churches innovate, especially as it relates to short-term gathering solutions. They may not be shifting their long-term strategy, but they are finding ways to adapt as they wait for their building to become available again.

For example, one Indianapolis pastor whose church launched in a school has shifted to worship gatherings in homes, hosted by key leaders. Where weather allows, church members are making good use of backyards and driveways as meeting spaces. Another pastor rented a large tent and, with some technical support, was able to do a great worship set up in a field. Churches have hosted outdoor drive-in style services using a speaker system or broadcasting via an FM station. This season offers challenges, but also so many opportunities.

From a DIY standpoint, engaging a restaurant or banquet hall facility can prove to be a viable option for gathering and one that is easier to pursue since these buildings are already zoned for large assembly. Churches could make a case with the owner for renting the facility during its off-hours.

How To Find Your Next Church Home

We also know that as the weather shifts and circumstances change, some churches will want to seek new long-term lease or purchase options where they can have a dedicated space. If this describes you, here are four steps we recommend churches take as they look for a new gathering place.

1. Map Your Current Congregation

As we work with churches, we ask them to identify the geography of where their congregation members are living. Sometimes, as they study that map, they are surprised to discover that 50 percent or more of their people are coming from an area that's not close to their current meeting location. The result is an opportunity for a strategic site shift.

2. Identify Opportunities Within Your Area

As we consider a target area, we know research shows that people don’t like to drive more than 20-30 minutes to many places, including a church location. According to multisite expert, Jim Tomberlin, 90 percent of all multisite campuses are launched within 30 minutes of the sending campus. “The strength of multisiting is not going to the next town. You're already there with a strong presence of people who already know, love and attend your church around the 15- to 20-minute driving distance from the sending church. This is what has made multisite such a successful model that you're building on the strength of people that already know and love your church and also have your DNA."

Once you’ve identified the geographic area you’re reaching, there is no substitute for driving the major streets and looking for unique opportunities. We like to explore possibilities for adaptive reuse, like vacated retail or business spaces.

You could even find an underutilized church building. Mark Jobe, with New Life Community Church in Chicago, expanded their ministry impact by partnering with churches who had failed or were struggling. A Restart is one way a flourishing church can bring new life to one that’s flagging, and a way to preserve sacred space when a church can no longer sustain its facility.

Another option is to share space with an existing church that can make its facility available during times when they're not utilizing it.

3. Seek Knowledgeable Representation

Churches often explore new opportunities on their own. However, as you get serious about securing a location, especially an adaptive reuse building, it’s incredibly beneficial to have reliable representation to initiate and support the conversations. Open space isn’t always immediately open to churches. For example, you might find a landlord who is willing to rent to a church, but it’s in a retail facility that isn’t currently zoned for that purpose.

One of the things we do at Aspen Group is quarterback for churches to help them navigate these processes. We help assemble a team with strategic players, like a commercial real estate broker, who can represent the church’s interests, and a zoning attorney who is competent in real estate law. Often, churches just haven’t encountered those people on their everyday ministry journey.

4. Evaluate Space Conversion Opportunities

Adaptive reuse can happen in almost any building, but does the one you’re considering align with your ministry’s needs and goals? It takes time and expertise to find the good ones. Another way we support churches is to help them evaluate spaces and make recommendations.

Adaptability is the way in which we judge whether or not a building can be reused. We talk about buildings as having “good bones.” Does it have enough power? Is the water line big enough? Do we need to upsize a transformer? Is there enough gas coming into the building? Will the existing land handle that new footprint or that new parking lot? We also want to look at development regulations, such as zoning or private covenants. If you are looking at converting a secular space to become a church, we would suggest you reach out to us and engage our resources so we can help.

It can be easy for churches to lose time wandering from space to space, feeling unqualified to assess each one’s possibilities and potential. Aspen Group's team of facility experts can greatly expedite the process of finding a new home for your church, and we can even help you make it your own.


About Joe LaPaglia

Joe LaPaglia is former Director of Cost Modeling for Aspen Group. He has more than 45 years of experience in the construction management field.