Why We Don't Want To Rent Space

Comments (20)

Many congregations rent their facilities to emerging or established Christian congregations in their communities. On the surface, this seems like a win-win arrangement. The host congregation (or landlord) receives income to maintain her facility and the tenant receives the benefit of space designed for religious purposes. On the surface, this practice also seems ethical as both the landlord and tenant willfully enter a contracted and mutually beneficial relationship.

But what does Christ think about such an arrangement? Do you think the Lord finds it strange that one congregation assumes the posture of landlord for a building that belongs to him? Do you think the Lord finds it bizarre that one congregation would charge another for the opportunity to advance the kingdom on her campus? Do you think the Lord finds the establishment of a landlord-tenant relationship at odds with his teaching on lordship and service or finds such a relationship inconsistent with the fruit of his work of reconciliation?

Rev. Lambert Sikkema, co-pastor of the Hanford (CA) Christian Reformed Church (CRC), got me asking those questions. The Hanford congregation shares its facility with another Christian congregation – free of charge. Some who know this church might counter that the Hanford CRC doesn’t need the money, but that fact makes their space-sharing practice even more remarkable. They have chosen to share space with another congregation not for the sake of additional income but for the advancement of the kingdom. “It’s all about Kingdom Asset Management,” said Sikkema. “Is the Kingdom of God getting maximum benefit from a God-given asset? If not, what more could be done to utilize space and facilities to an ever greater extent for the advancement of the Kingdom?”

By sharing space, rather than renting space, the Hanford CRC makes a huge statement.  First, they boldly announce that their God-given facilities belong to the Lord and shall be used for the benefit of the Kingdom and the community. Plus, they partner with other ministries to advance the mission of Christ in its own community. Finally, they reject the opportunity to create a contracted, business relationship between two congregations - one in which one congregation lords over another.  

This remarkable practice by the Hanford CRC contrasts with those of other congregations.  Many financially distressed congregations decide to share space for the sake of economic survival instead of for the opportunity to advance the kingdom in their communities. Many financially healthy congregations refuse to share space with congregations in their communities because they don’t need rental income. (Ironically, these same congregations often provide financial support for Christian congregations outside of their communities.)

Clearly, then, money – not the advancement of the kingdom of God - often determines whether or not a congregation shares space with another congregation. And, as a wise person once taught me, when money is the primary basis for a decision, it will be the wrong decision.

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Good points!

Though I can understand Hamstra and Sikkema's point about furthering the kingdom, I feel they have both missed the point on "stewardship" by focusing purely on the monetary aspect of the transaction. Both congregations in the relationship are involved in tilling the fields of the Lord and contributing to the upkeep of his flock. The landlord church may or may not need the rent, nontheless the hope would be that whatever is collected would go to furthering the Kingdom. Secondly, the tenant church may or may not be able to pay rent, nonetheless we are called to give of our gifts to further the the Kingdom. Should the landlord church decide to forgo the rent to further the Kingdom, that is also a gift.

The whole notion of "landlord-tenant" is inappropriate with regard to church facilities. The facilities are not like someone's house or factory or some other real-estate. The facilities belong to the kingdom and the council is to exercise stewardship over those assets. Rent money doesn't become available to the kingdom once it has been collected by the 'landlord'. The money in all our pockets belongs to the lord...if the members of the other congregation use those same 'rent' dollars on other kingdom-expanding causes...the kingdom does advance. I fail to see the stewardship problem in this arrangement.

I think this article addresses something important but then mischarecterizes churches who 'rent" space to sister congregations. Should a church only be in a Landlord-tenant relationship with another church in which the only thing that happens between them is a writing and cashing of a rental check? No, that would not be a good situation and as Christians we are called to more than that. But does  that mean that the only other true "Christian" option is to let another congregation "share" the building without anything being given by them? Our church shares our building with an immigrant African congregation. We do not call it a rental situation. We know that our facilities are from God and we are happy to share them with another congregation. We do have a contract with them about usage and about rental fees. But we also worship together at times, have our councils meet together for times of prayer  ,and we hold Vacation bible school together. We see them as our brothers and sisters .And they are happy to contribute to keeping the buildings maintained and the utilities on. We share the buildings so we share some of the costs. I think situations like ours are a bit more complex and probably much more common that the article lets on. 

Community Builder

This is an interesting discussion. Let's assume the renter is a new emerging CRC or church plant (the initial article did not specify a CRC just a "Christian church" and that can be a pretty loose definition!) The rent could be put in a special fund to pay for a new facility at a new location once the emerging or church plant grows. If the church is not affiliated with the CRC a formal rental agreement would still be needed to cover off all the legal issues (and there are many nowadays). The rent fee can often be only a minor part of a lease agreement.

Many churches offer other services in their facilities. How do we define when rent should be charged? Are all funeral services to be free no matter who asks, or marriages if the couple is simply looking for a place with a nice organ or other unique feature? The legal issues regarding the latter are already pretty involved.

Maybe we need a discussion on how a church can protect itself from the use of their building by (unacceptable - however defined) third parties.

Are you aware of an MOU template that could be used in reaching an agreement with a potential (non-CRC) partner?  Thanks

Community Builder

There is another facet of the landlord-tenant relationship and that is power.  Doesn't it seem that the one receiving money (landlord) is in a position of power over the one handing over money? And how do we harmonize that position of power with our unity in Christ? 

There is a Foucaultian post-modern tendency to view relationships with suspicion when it comes to the matter of power. 

Though I can understand that "power" might be an issue, nonetheless a landlord / tenant relationship is usually premised on a contractual relationship with obligations and responsibilities similar to the concept of a covenantal relationship. Secondly, that contractual relationship is regulated by legislation and civil authorities where recourse for remedies can be pursued even though it may not always work effectively.

Moreover, quite apart from the state ensuring that the interests of the respective parties being protected there are also other matters which need to be addressed that are raised by Harry Bossenkool and Brian Tebben.

 

Community Builder

Not sure I was influenced by the philosopher Foucault. Maybe his writings have seeped into my psyche through someone else since I haven't read him.  I will have to check into that.

I do see a recurring thread, however, in some of the comments thus far: an assumption that a church charging another church or ministry rent for the use of space is normative and, hence, exceptions to that norm unusual.

If that be the case, I want to lift up the Hanford (CA) CRC as a model worthy of emulation. By treating the ministry of another congregation on their campus in the same fashion they treat ministries like GEMS, Cadets, and Coffee Break, they provide an admirable model for other congregations.  Wouldn't you agree?
 

As I've indicated in previous posts, I can understand the desire to further Kingdom work.

What I don't understand is the avoidance to engage in the notion that these congregations operate within civil and legislation frameworks as two distinct corporate entities.

Framing the matter as purely a monetary / power imbalance ignores both the biblical stewardship relationship between the parties, as well as the civil / legal issues that arise when two parties jointly agree to share in the use of a facility. What Hanford CRC has offered the other church meeting in it's space may "feel good" but may also be problematic in the eyes of the civil authorities, as well as, other parties such as insurance companies, e.g. what binds the other church to abide by CRCNA Safe Church policy.

The article above does not provide a lot of detail on the Hanford CRC relationship, however, the Brian Tebben example is more helpful and moves in the right direction. Harry Boessenkool also alludes to the complexity of legal constraints that exist in Canada, and probably also the United States, on providing services and facilities on the same equity terms to both church members and non-church members. 

 

 

 

What exactly are the 'biblical stewardship' and civil - legislative issues being alluded to in this post? If a local congregation of Jesus Christ decides it wants to share facilities with other brothers and sisters in Christ, is it not free to do so? By the way, how many local congregations in the CRC are bound by the Safe Church guidelines? What exactly is the legally binding relationship between local congregations and the CRCNA in Michigan?  

Our relationship with this group of folk is simply our strategy to advance the cause of Christ for the Spanish population in Kings County. Our insurance underwriter is fine with these arrangements. We have enjoyed 4 years of mutual joy and encouragement in advancing the cause of Christ here in Hanford and look forward many more years together as faithful stewards of the resources entrusted to our care. 

Community Builder

Lambert, thank you for the details regarding your practice of sharing space with another Christian congregation.  I hope and pray the relationship continues to be blessed.  

It must be a "Central Valley thing." I understand that Visalia CRC has been doing the same thing? They even share the church copier....how stewardly is that?

Community Builder

Even sharing the copier?  Wow! 

What does the statement mean: "What does Christ think of such an arrangement?"

Certainly the fact that there are two different congregations in the same geographic area must be challenged!

We were supposed to be 'one' to convince the World about the Way!

How many have we become?

 

 

Community Builder

My question relates to our understanding of kingdom, stewardship and space.  I simply wonder if Christ affirms of one congregation renting space to another. My concern is that instead of wrestling with that issue we begin with the assumption that the landlord-tenant relationship is the way to go unless we can be shown otherwise.  I would love it if we began with the assumption that we share space as partners in ministry. Then see what comes out of such a conversation.

As far as multiple congregations in the same area, I am sure you would agree that it is not always possible for every for every Christian in one geographic area to worship in one space at one time.  We would have too many people speaking too many different languages.  We will have to wait for heaven to enjoy that privilege.

Still, I grant that in some settings the possibility for organizational unity exists but is not pursued - and that practice should be challenged. 

 

 

 

I thought I would share this up-date. The folks sharing kingdom space with us are growing rapidly. They started worshipping in our upper room auditorium. They rapidly out-grew that space and moved downstairs to our fellowship room. For a number of weeks now this group has seen 'standing room' crowds and asked to use the sanctuary. The photos from Sunday morning show an almost full house. We couldn't be happier for these dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Their youth group is thriving as is their couples club. God is obviously blessing this group and we rejoice accordingly. 

  Interesting topic, thanks Sam. Good food for thought. I believe our church 'rents' space to AA where they hold their meetings in our basement while one day per week we let local homeschoolers hold their music lessons in our sanctuary. Not sure if the home schooling group pays us or not. Where would one draw some kind of line involving who pays and who doesn't? It could be argued that AA does as much to 'advance the kingdom' as some churches while the home schoolers are all predominately from Christian families.  

A Christian Reformed Church Building is just that - a building which needs resources for the upkeep. Since the local congregation is in charge of the building they can set rules - who to share the building with and how much to charge.

The "Kingdom of God" encompasses the whole universe and is not limited to a wood and stone structure that is used to worship GOD by a very small group of people.

It is so "unreformed" in my way of thinking to force a structure made by man to some arbitrary rules that are labeled "God's rules". Its the type of thinking that seems to justify paying a very small wage to people working for a church.

That a church MUST share their resources for no charge because they are Christian, while businesses owned by Christians are allowed to charge in order to earn a profit because the businesses are not part of God's Kingdom comes from some Kingdom model that is totally foreign to Reformed way of thinking.

Community Builder

August, thanks for your comment.

I agree with you that "a Christian Reformed Church Building is just that - a building which needs resources for the upkeep. Since the local congregation is in charge of the building they can set rules - who to share the building with and how much to charge." I agree that congregations are under no obligation to do otherwise except, I would add, the obligation by which all Christian congregations live: to love God and neighbor as they have been loved. I agree that there are no arbitrary rules by which a church must act except, I would add, the commandment to love God and neighbor as guided by the Word and Spirit.

I regret that you received the impression that I was suggesting a mandate to guide all congregations renting space to other congregations. The relationship between two congregations which prompted my first post was not meant to provide an example of a relationship guided by rules. Rather, just the opposite. It was provided as an alternative to the typical rule-guided relationships between congregations which own property and those to whom they rent their property.  

 

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