AT A GLANCE…
Read this if…
You are a church leader or church attender in a portable church environment.
This post in one sentence…
If we can see through the challenges of portable church, we can discover the many opportunities portable provides.
As a church leader, I’ve spent the better part of my professional Christian life in portable church. I’ve learned a lot, made some mistakes, found some advantages, and experience success without a building. In the previous post, we talked about portable church challenges. But there are also opportunities, and ways to succeed.
Let’s look at some portable church opportunities now, and then we can evaluate how to succeed as a portable church in the next post.
LOVING YOUR PORTABLE CHURCH
When you are in the midst of set up and tear down every week, it’s easy to forget there are advantages and opportunities that come with the territory. They are not readily evident at 5:30 a.m. when trailers are being delivered or at 3:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon as the tear down process concludes, but they are there. And when we look close enough, they become evident.
Like most difficulties in life, though, the frustrations and challenges of portable church can mentally and physically outweigh the opportunities portable provides. So before you get too frustrated with your portable challenges, consider these opportunities:
1. Unchurched people are not adverse to portable church.
In fact, for the unchurched in our communities, portable church can be an advantage. Considering most people are either dechurched or at least have some context for church, offering a church experience in a very nontraditional church setting presents advantages. Where pews and stain glass windows may conjure up bad previous experiences, a school or theater is relatively neutral spiritual ground – and that’s a huge advantage.
I realize we often don’t consider it, but a church building can be a barrier to the very people you desire to reach most.
2. Flexible and nimble.
Portable facilities create a unique flexibility. For one, you are not building poor (kind of like house poor, but worse). A church building and its mortgage can easily hijack a budget. Considering the facility sits empty most of the week, dedicating significant money toward a building mortgage reduces our budget flexibility – all for a space used once or twice a week.
In tandem, portable facilities allow a church to be more nimble. If you outgrow a building, you are stuck, unless you happen to have expansion spaces and capital (who doesn’t have that, right?). If you decide to change directions, a portable context allows for a speedier change. If you grow, you can negotiate more space. If you decline, you aren’t stuck with a half full building and full mortgage.
Portable is flexible. Portable is nimble. Both are opportunities that we can miss.
3. Mission and vision are building independent.
We discussed the challenge of keeping a mission permanent in a non-permanent location in the first post, but we should recognize the mission and vision are not directly connected to a building. In fact, I’ve seen a building significantly hamper a mission and vision more than once! Unfortunately, many churches have allowed their building to BECOME their mission and vision. They spend more time talking about building upkeep than evangelism (and more money, too).
The church meeting location is one of many tools in the hands of your mission and vision. Some might want a hammer, but let’s not miss the opportunity a Swiss Army Knife can provide.
4. Identity should be defined by the people of the church, not the place they gather.
The church is not the building. The church is not the building. The church is not the building. That needs to be taught in every church. Maybe once a year.
We know the church is the people, but that’s not common knowledge to church people, making owning an identity a challenge in a temporary location. But the opportunity to craft a better identity in a portable facility far outweighs the challenge. Think of it this way – creating a unique and true identity for your church in a portable location requires putting people first, because the identity CANNOT be the building when you don’t have a building.
NOTE: I taught an entire series around this idea. You can watch it HERE. If it’s helpful, CONTACT ME and I’ll send you all my notes. The big idea was simple: “The church is best when we understand not WHERE it is, but WHO it is.”
5. Starting portable positions people to succeed.
When done right (we’ll look more at this in the following post), starting in a portable fashion allows for deeper buy in and core building, something necessary for long-term success in a church. Sure, having a building would simplify some areas of church orchestration, but luxuries better attract consumers than contributors. Every church needs a healthy core group of contributors. The portable church creates the perfect context us to build the core.
6. Resources can be ministry facing, not debt repaying.
Especially in the beginning, maximum resources should be funneled toward ministry. Taking on a large building campaign and debt service too early straps the mission and vision with a non-ministry handcuff. At some point, a building campaign is the best next step, but that must come on the heels of establishing the church’s identity, ministry, and financial stability.
Again, getting into a permanent facility will be advantageous at some point in a growing church’s lifecycle, but to ignore the advantages and opportunities of the portable church is to miss the opportunities portable can provide.
If you are in a portable church, what opportunities has it provided? I would love to know. Give us your feedback in the comments below so we can better take advantage of the opportunities portable church provides.