Should churches rent/purchase store fronts?

Today I had an interesting conversation with a woman at work. We were discussing the local town we both live in. It is a smaller town, just north of Syracuse. We were discussing the fact that we both grew up outside of the town, which is the kind of place where everyone knows everyone. Those who grew up here know everyone and those who didn’t grow up here are easily pointed out. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, it is what it is.

Within this town, and its resulting culture, has sprung up a recent church plant. Now before I go any further, if you don’t know, I am completely for church planting. I love the church, blemishes and all. In fact, I’m attempting to follow the Spirit’s leading in establishing a faith community. We need more Christian communities of faith, especially here in central New York where the only options seem to be the Roman Catholic Church or low-church evangelicalism. We need more middle of the theological road, missionally minded, kingdom oriented, liturgical leaning communities that exist for the sake of others. But that’s another story.

The interesting thing about today’s conversation was the apparent angst regarding the location of the town’s recent church plant. Just outside of our village is a small strip mall comprised of mainly mom and pop eateries, a dollar store, a gym, and empty spaces. Found in the corner of the strip mall, in the largest spot available, is this church plant. My co-worker asked me in a very annoyed tone if  I had seen this church and her hopes regarding its eventual departure: “I hope they’re renting it”, to be exact.

I was caught somewhat off-guard by her comment, but it got me thinking. In a town like ours is it beneficial to the overall economy to take up a potential business space to be used as a church? Are there taxes that are being lost for the benefit of the town? A related question is, if you have free coffee available for the public at your church during the weekdays, is it taking away from the only local coffeeshop in town? In a town like ours that is struggling to make ends meet and more jobs are needed, perhaps especially in entrepreneurial ventures, is a church taking away a potential business a detriment to its mission?

Without even knowing the beliefs and actions of this church, which, by the way, I know the pastor and they’re doing a wealth of good, my co-worker has already written them off because of their location. I’m merely wondering out loud if we as church planters should have a theology of location that informs our decisions. Should we do more cultural exegesis in our plans, perhaps including the possible economic disturbances our locations will bring about?

Any thoughts out there?

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2 thoughts on “Should churches rent/purchase store fronts?

  1. Your post harkens to a missiologist I once heard who said “to hell with good intentions” related to the unintended byproduct of American missions in 3rd world countries. As one example, he talked about the impact of bringing boxes knitted quilts into villages that had a local seamstress living with a meager salary.

    Yet, you can’t compare the economy of a village with North Syracuse. While the village entrepreneur may have lower taxes :), the scope of possibilities for a US enterprise is leaps and bounds above that of a village seamstress. If a coffee house is negatively impacted by token coffees from a church with odd hours, your operation would struggle regardless of the church or not – we aren’t talking willow creek coffee distribution here.

    I tend to perceive a more dynamic economy that has enough flex to accommodate store front churches. The “lose” of store front to a church will be made up by another option if there is strong economic reason to setup additional lots. The framing question ought to be the actual withdrawl from local economy and whether it is substantive enough to warrant revisiting.

    This is a great question to tease out which is worth thinking deeply. I also don’t know North Syracuse so my context may be skewed. This is would be a wonderful hour or two of discussion.

  2. Thanks for the post, JP. There are definitely positives that can come out of having store front churches. I found this article (http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/letthechurchsayamen/storefront.html) to be rather insightful, especially for a white, middle class, suburbia dude like myself. I think we tend to forget the urban, non-white church and the troubles they face, and have faced for quite some time, that we have no idea about. Yet another story.
    One viable option I see could be to have a rental property that the church either runs a community center/business out of or that it sublets out to other local businesses. That way the church could use the building for meetings/offices/services and could add to the local economy through some form of a business. I believe there are viable options out there that are doing pretty much this very thing.
    Definitely a great conversation to be having, especially in light of the current decline and emergence into the future.

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