DALLAS, Texas – It's one of the fastest-growing business trends in history, known as the sharing economy. The concept is that individuals choose to rent or borrow goods, rather than buy and own them. We see people sharing cars, spare rooms, offices and now church space.
"For churches that are just starting out, they probably have a very small, if any, budget for housing, or for the mortgage, or for rent. So that generally cripples a ministry. Within their first one to three years they're either closing down, downsizing or just totally moving online," said Day Edwards, founder of a company called Church Space.
Finding Solutions to a Common Church Problem
As the daughter of a church planter, this description is all too familiar for Edwards.
"We started our church in our home and we would have to make-shift a church area in our living room...we had to set-up and break down, set up and break down, and I just thought growing up, 'You know what, when I get older I'm never going to church again because this is too much work,'" Edwards told CBN News.
Instead, she says God used her as part of the solution.
"I was praying to God and I told God I wanted to have a co-working space for women. A lot of my clients are women that I help within a business, and he actually showed me a vision of a co-working space – but it was a church," Edwards said.
Connecting Via the "Church Space" App
Co-working turned to co-churching, as Edwards changed her plans to match God's vision.
"Church Space is a mobile app that connects vacant church spaces with ministries, business owners, and event professionals seeking space at an affordable rate," Edwards said.
Each property listing on the app comes specifically equipped for a modern church's needs. Lighting, instruments, audio, and even streaming equipment are all provided.
Multiple clients can rent the same space, each with a fixed time slot for their service, as well as a weekday option for office hours and activities like Bible studies or choir rehearsal.
Building-sharing is attractive to new churches and ministries, but it's also proving to be the solution to a growing problem many existing churches face.
Sharing Space Becomes an Alternative to Foreclosure
Mitchell Boone is the senior pastor of White Rock Methodist. His church faced possible foreclosure following decades of financial and attendance losses.
"We, like several different denominations all over the country, face decline and we had become disconnected from our neighborhood. So our congregation had dwindled in size to where 60,000 square feet worth of space was not sustainable for our congregation," Boone explained.
Situations like that often force churches to close, but it's Larry Duggins' mission to keep that from happening. He heads up the Missional Wisdom Foundation, which helps congregations rent out under-utilized space.
"Our idea is not to change church buildings into community centers or anything like that because there's an important need for worship space. Still and ongoing, for many people, that's the way they connect with God. But we can use this unused space to be able to create communities that walk alongside the worship services, and walk alongside the Sunday school classes to be able to help people connect in ways that are relevant to them," Duggins told CBN News.
In the case of White Rock, church leaders had already begun a community garden and renting out classroom space to an art camp on weekdays. The Missional Wisdom Foundation leased an additional 15,000 square feet of unused space in the basement. It now serves as a co-working space, a shared kitchen, small offices, and even a Taikwando studio.
"We had done a fair amount of listening before we started to do any construction downstairs. We had an employee who sat in the space, or outside of White Rock for almost six months, talking to people who came by, gathering information so that we had some good feedback on what the neighbors needed and wanted. It was more than simply meeting a need, it was filling a gap," Duggins said.
An Added Benefit: Connecting with the Community
With costs now offset, the church can continue its ministry for many years to come. Opening up and allowing the community to come in has also provided a unique opportunity.
"Jesus was constantly around people. Jesus was constantly eating with folks, being present with folks in their pain. Jesus was at the center of the community. So when the Church can take on this posture of being deeply engaged with our neighbors, it allows us to fulfill our mission of bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to the world," Boone said.
For Church Space, the blessing is twofold. There is a growing demand for space to rent, and the model is serving its original purpose.
"Our longest tenants with Church Space have been at one of our very first facilities for a year and now that they've been there, they've saved up enough money to get their own space. The beautiful thing about that is that the new space they're opening is still going to be a part of Church Space because they're going to rent that out as well," Edwards said.
Whether the shared space is with another church, exercise class, or an art studio, it's allowing church leadership to stop stressing about finances and focus on what's really important: their ministry.