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Underutilized Spaces: A Practice in Creative Stewardship

So…lately I’ve been hearing a lot of conversation about church property. As demographics change and congregations age, buildings originally designed to meet the needs of larger, younger faith communities are becoming underutilized. That means local churches are currently stewards of a lot of empty space, sometimes very expensive space. Which leads to the question, how can local churches make the best use of the space God has given them?

I would love to hear your stories about the creative ways your church has come up with to make optimum use of underutilized space.

Here is a quick story to get us started:

Several years ago, I was appointed to serve the San Juan United Methodist Church in San Juan, Texas. The church worshiped approximately twenty people in the summer and one hundred in the winter. The campus housed two buildings. The main building containing the sanctuary, fellowship hall, kitchen and office space, and a separate education building. Well, it was called the education building. In reality it had been several years since it had actually served that function. What it was really used for was a monthly flea market. The flea market brought in extra funds for the church, and provided an opportunity to stay connected to the neighborhood. Maybe not a terrible use of space. The problem was the congregation was aging and the work involved in keeping the market open beginning to be too much.

So we began to explore other possible uses of the space. Eventually we hit on the idea of fixing up part of the building to house mission teams. Through our connections to the Nomads On a Mission Active in Divine Service (NOMADS) we were able to add showers to the existing restrooms and build bunk beds for two dorm rooms. We were also able to get a donation to cover the cost of new mattresses. The building was renamed Otto’s Bunkhouse and we began booking Mission teams. The last year of my appointment at San Juan there was only one week in which there was not a mission team staying with us. It turned out to be a great use of space and the market continued in a somewhat smaller, more manageable format.

I would love to hear some of the creative ways your church has found to use extra space and/or ideas you may have but have not yet tried. Sharing wisdom and experience benefits us all.

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