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.