Why Portable Church Should be a Permanent Part of the Future
Chances are, the biggest and most memorable events you’ve been to in your life have happened in a set-up/tear-down venue: concerts, conferences, weddings, parties, graduations, etc. The majority of these events now happen in rented facilities: stadiums, arenas, tents, convention centers or a beach, park or field in the case of many weddings today.
Virtually no artist owns their own concert facility and makes fans fly to their venue to watch them play. Imagine having to fly to the “Coldplay facility” in England to watch them play. No, the bands you love most come to you, rent a facility, set up the show and then move to the next town.
It’s also quite amazing to see what can be done in a portable environment.
One of the biggest shows in history was the last U2 tour. The 360˚ tour was an unbelievably elaborate set that is hard to believe could be done on the road. The blog photo above is a shot I took a few years ago at the Toronto stop of their 360˚ Tour. (For more, here’s a three-minute timelapse video of the nine-day set-up and tear-down of the set. To see another view including concert footage, click here.)
On a more personal scale, chances are you will attend a college graduation in a tent or a wedding of someone you love deeply on a beach, in a garden or field, in a restaurant or on a farm. So here’s the question:
If the biggest and most meaningful gatherings on the planet are portable, why doesn’t the church make portable church a permanent part of the future?
Almost every church starts portable. But few want to stay there. Why?
Because there’s a stigma attached to being portable.
- People think you’re not a "real church."
- Set-up and tear-down is hard work.
- It feels temporary, not permanent.
Can we rethink that?
- It’s not that people think you’re not a real church; some Christians think you’re not a real church.
- Set-up and tear-down is hard work when you’re not organized or don’t have bought-in volunteers; when you do, it’s sustainable.
- Maybe it only feels temporary because the idea is fairly new to the church world.
At Connexus, we’ve been doing set-up and tear-down for over five years and have discovered to our surprise that it’s a great way to do church for unchurched people.
In fact, last year, we decided that portable church would be a permanent part of our future.
While we are looking to find a larger facility that would function as a hub to which we have 24/7 access, weekend venues that are portable make sense for us for numerous reasons. Here are seven reasons portable church might make sense as a permanent part of the future:
1. The stigma doesn’t exist with unchurched people.
I never expected that to be true, but we’ve heard that story many times. Christians who stay away from portable church will always have another building they can go to for church. 60% of our growth at Connexus is from self-identified unchurched people. Many of them tell us they love our venue because it’s not a "church." I’ve never had an unchurched person say “I will come when you have a real building."
2. Larger churches are finding portable church works.
Read through some of the stories Portable Church Industries outlines and you’ll see portable church isn’t just for small start-ups. Churches of 1000+ are fully portable.
3. Building costs are disproportionately high.
Where I live, 30,000 square feet of new construction permanent space will cost you over eight million dollars. Even with our $1.3 million dollar budget and a $1.25 million dollar capital campaign last year, building a full-scale facility from scratch would be a financially oppressive move.
4. It allows you to pour more money into ministry.
As a five-year-old church, we are debt-free with money in the bank and margin for the future. Last weekend we were able to spontaneously give a $5000 donation to aid flood relief in Calgary. That would not have happened if we had a six million dollar mortgage.
5. New buildings don’t grow your church.
I know more than a few church leaders who have poured millions into new venues only to discover they didn’t grow once they opened. Effective ministry will grow a church. A building won’t (for more on that, read this post on three things that won’t grow your church).
6. Portable is flexible.
Flexible, agile churches will make a big impact in the future. You can upsize or downsize your venues based on current momentum. Once you’re in a building, you’re committed to or constrained by the size of footprint you created until money is available to change that. Portable is more more flexible.
7. Buildings eventually become mausoleums.
Almost every church leader has heard of Charles Spurgeon. But who can name his church? It still exists, but almost died for lack of attenders in the 1970s. The point is this: God uses people to lead ministries, not buildings. Facilities are a means to an end.
I’m not saying churches shouldn’t have buildings. There are times where churches need them and ought to have them. But, there are lots of dying churches sitting on real estate, and lots of growing churches with none. (I also think dying churches should flip the keys to growing churches ... but that’s another post).
Has the time come for us to push past the point where we believe that every growing church should have a building?
The time has come for us to give portable church a permanent place in the future of the church, and get on with building a movement.