When you are church planting, you are usually starting with nothing. You typically have few people, probably no money and it is very unlikely that you have a building to call your own. This is a headache and a blessing all at the same time. If you speak to leaders of established churches who have those things, they will often tell you that as well as providing a great resource, they impose constraints on what you can do. When you are planting a church, the difficult bit is figuring out how to make it work with limited resources, but the opportunity before you is shaping something from the ground up: growing disciples who are on board with the vision, developing the kind of culture that you want to see around finance, and picking a place to meet that perfectly fits what you are trying to do.
In different content on Broadcast we look at some of the different aspects of this, but in this article we will think about how to find an ideal venue for a church plant to meet in.
WHY Do You Need a Venue For a Church Plant?
The old truism tells us that church isn't a building, it is the people - and this is absolutely right. As church planters we own this point, and find ourselves frequently turning to it when people ask us why we don't meet in a traditional church building and questioning our credentials as a 'proper church' because of the unconventional room we are gathering in.
And yet this point that we use to justify our choice of venue could cause us to ask the question whether we even need a venue for a church plant at all. After all, it is meeting in homes that has got us this far and there is Biblical precedent for doing it this way (for example 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15). In our day, there are many house churches that exist, and in certain parts of the world it is the primary way that the church is growing. So for these reasons, we couldn't go so far as to say a church plant needs a venue beyond the home. However, there are a few reasons why finding a public venue is a good idea, particularly planting in a Western context.
It is Biblical. Yes, the early believers did meet in homes, but this is not all they did. Acts 2 describes the Christians in Jerusalem as, "attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes", and in Ephesus Paul hired out the hall of Tyrannus as a place for public meetings. There is Biblical precedent for both meeting together in homes and having more public gatherings, and we should be looking to do both in our church plants.
It legitimises you. For all our protestations, there are many people who do associate a church with a 'Sunday service' and are more likely to take you seriously when you have started your public meetings. It will be difficult to reach people like these until you find a venue and launch.
It gives space for growth. Unless you are meeting in a mansion, a meeting in a home is likely to reach capacity pretty quickly and doesn't give the same space to grow as a public meeting does. In theory it is possible to solve this by multiplying homes, but practically this would still probably need a public meeting that brings all the groups together to give it cohesion and unity.
It removes a barrier for entry. When you are invited into a home, you are very clearly on somebody else's turf. In certain aspects of culture (such as a lot of UK working class culture) going into somebody else's house, particularly if they are a stranger, is an unusual and intimidating thing. Finding a public venue creates a safe and neutral space for people to come along and start getting to know you.
It gives you some profile. As you meet publicly, you may well find people walking past who pop in to have a look what is going on, or there may be opportunity for sharing publicity and/or having conversations with other users of the same building.
WHEN Do You Need a Venue For a Church Plant?
The right moment to find a venue for a church plant varies from one plant to the next, but the basic principle is to look out for the 'Goldilocks Moment' - not too early and not too late.
Going public too early can be disastrous as once you have made the commitment to a public meeting, it is very difficult to undo this and go back to meeting in a home. Your early meetings are never going to be perfect, but you need to be at a stage where you can put on a functional meeting - a decent preach, someone who can passably lead some singing, good hospitality and (in the case of a morning or afternoon meeting) some kids work are probably a bare minimum. You need enough people with you to carry this load and enough critical mass that it doesn't feel to awkward if a family or two are away (which is a real risk if you go public with fewer than 20 people).
Going public too late also has its hazards. If you continue meeting in a house for too long, then the momentum of building towards a launch can fade and people can settle into a nice cosy group. When the intentionality disappears it is hard to re-inject the momentum when you do finally decide to go for it.
You need to gauge the momentum that you are building and make a call for yourselves where that Goldilocks moment is. Some of the factors that might help you discern the moment are:
Your own style as a leader. I know that I do a lot better leading a public meeting than I do in a house setting, so I want to play to my strengths and will be more likely to pull the trigger slightly earlier on a public meeting. Other people thrive on running a home meeting and may want to milk it for all it's worth before moving to the next phase.
Your team. What passions and gifts are in the people that you have gathered? Would they be most suited to gathering people into the kind of community that comes with meeting in a home, or would a public meeting be a tool that they could use to invite people?
Your context. How normal is meeting in homes for the setting you are reaching? Would it be a warm and welcome invitation or something slightly odd. I am planting into a creative district of an urban city centre, where everything is built around public meetings, so again this steers us in this direction early and we will probably start with around 20 people. Other contexts might lend themselves to gathering 30 to 40 in homes before launching.
What have you got faith for? Faith is the key ingredient, and if you are trying to launch a public meeting that you don't have faith for, it won't go anywhere? Conversely, if you are holding back on launching the meeting that you have faith will fly then why not step out and take the plunge?
WHAT Are You Looking For In a Venue For a Church Plant?
There are lots of different factors to consider as you look at possible venues for your church to meet in. These factors include:
Room size. Obviously the room needs to be big enough to fit you all in and allow some space to grow into. Make sure you think about how much room there will be for seats after you have allowed space for your musicians and hospitality area (and give some thought to the shape of the room and what this means for your layout). It is also important not to go for a room that is too big for you. When there is a small number of you rattling around in a big space, it can serve to emphasise your smallness and create a discouraging atmosphere.
Kids space. If you are planting something that will meet in the morning or the afternoon then you should think about what you want to do with children. Ideally you need at least one (with the scope to grow into more) dedicated rooms for the children's work to meet in and if your venue doesn't have this, it may put some parents off joining you.
Equipment. Some rooms come with equipment that you can use. If the room already has a PA system, a projector and a screen that could work for you, this is a win. At the very least, you would hope that the room will come with enough chairs for you all to use.
Storage space. Chances are you have music and projection equipment, kids work resources, hospitality supplies and other things that you will need every Sunday. Transporting them every week isn't ideal, so you really want to find a venue that will let you store things there from week to week.
Price. You know what your incomings and outgoings are as a church, and before you find a venue you should have a budget for how much you can afford to spend. Make sure the venue that you use fits your budget.
Location. You know what area you are trying to reach, so really you want somewhere in that area. If it is a well-known or easy to find venue then all the better. For some people, choosing a prestigious venue is important, although this is probably not as important as many think.
Accessibility. Is the venue easy to access. Is it easy to find? What car parking facilities are there nearby? Is your room at the front of the building or hidden away in a maze of corridors? Have accessibility arrangements been made for those with wheelchairs? How easy is it to get to the room with a pushchair?
Cleanliness. How clean is the room? Has it been refurbished recently or is it a bit of a dump?
Time Availability. Is the room available at the time you want, or would you need to go with a different meeting time to get it? (And if so, do you think it is worth making the change?) Is the room also available midweek if you needed to hire it for occasional meetings?
Favour. How warm are the people that own or run the venue to you? What about the staff who work there? If you can find somewhere with people who like you and are happy to help, it is much better than being thought of as a nuisance.
This is a long list and it is far from exclusive. The reality is that you are very unlikely to find somewhere that ticks all (or even most) of these boxes, so it will come down to prioritisation. You need to decide which things you consider non-negotiables (not too many things), and which are just nice-to-haves. The non-negotiables will vary from one context to the next, but for me they would include room size, storage space, kids space and price, with a bit a favour also high up on my list.
WHERE Could You Look For a Venue For a Church Plant?
Community Spaces. The first port of call for many church planters when looking for a venue is key community spaces. If you have a local community centre or a town hall that rents out rooms, this is worth a try. Schools are another common option, and scout huts, hotels, sports clubs and pub function rooms are also worth a look.
Church Buildings. Don't discount existing church buildings. There are lots of churches that have their own facilities and only used for a Sunday morning meeting. If you are willing to hold your service later in the day, you may well find one that is willing to let you hire their building (it is after all, a building that has been designed with church in mind).
Think Outside the Box. If the more conventional options of traditional community spaces and church buildings draw a blank for you, it might be time to consider some more unusual venues. There are churches that meet in cinemas and theatres and it works for them. Others meet in nightclubs or hire rooms in sports stadia. We started one of our churches in Manchester in the dingy upstairs room of a vodka bar.
Don't Discount A Permanent Building. The first place to look is most likely a place that you would just hire on Sundays, but don't completely rule out renting somewhere permanently. There are churches that have made it work great where they hire a facility that they can hold their Sunday services, have midweek meetings and office space the rest of the time. It probably wouldn't be the best option for your very first venue, but as you move down the road, you might even want to think about purchasing a building of your own.
HOW Do You Find the Right Venue For a Church Plant?
Walk your area. The place to start is by wandering the streets of your area and having a look around. This will give you a feel for what it out there and might unearth some hidden gems that you wouldn't otherwise have found. It will also help you see straight away some venues that wouldn't work for you. You might want to pray as you walk, or alternatively you could walk with one or two members of the team and see if they notice any possibilities that you overlook.
Scour the web. Most places that have rooms for rent have some kind of web presence. An afternoon in front of your laptop trawling through page after page of google searches will probably throw up quite a few options for you to go and have a look at.
Follow every lead. One of our Manchester churches currently meets in a great venue, but the venue was actually suggested to us a few months before we ended up going for it, but because the person who suggested it didn't have much credibility we didn't even give it a look. The lesson that we have learned is to pursue every lead, wherever it comes from - you never know when one of them will lead you to a winner.
Know your red lines. You need to be willing to show some flexibility, and it might be necessary to go with a venue that is a solid seven out of ten if that is the best you can find, but there will be a few things (perhaps from the list above) that you know you can't do without. These are your red lines. If you are looking at a venue that doesn't measure up to these things, then keep on looking.
Have some faith. Venue hunting can be a frustrating process, particularly when you have traipsed round dozens of buildings with no success, but this is where faith comes in. Believing that God is building his church among you and will provide you with what you need can keep you motivated as you patiently search, and it is something that you can then plead back to God in prayer.
Listen to God. Sometimes God will lead you to a venue, and it is important to listen to what he is saying. We found the venue for our next church plant in Manchester when I just happened to be walking past the venue and God gave me a hunch that I should go in and enquire whether they had rooms for hire - we hadn't even really started venue hunting yet, but we followed where God was leading and have found somewhere that will work really well for us.