A Generosity Project Reflection – Stewardship of Space: Thinking Beyond the Sanctuary

ABCUSA > In the Spotlight > A Generosity Project Reflection – Stewardship of Space: Thinking Beyond the Sanctuary

A Generosity Project Reflection – Stewardship of Space: Thinking Beyond the Sanctuary

The Generosity Project is a collaborative effort between ABCUSA, regions, and local congregations. The Generosity Project aims to help pastors re-frame the conversation around stewardship and generosity in their congregations. Bi-monthly blogs help support new growth and understanding as we deepen our ministry and discipleship. The reflection below was provided by Rev. Stacy Emerson.

Stewardship of Space: Thinking Beyond the Sanctuary

In the ministry of stewardship, congregations need to consider all the resources they manage, including the church building itself.  So many churches are empty 6 days a week and the practical space we utilize sparingly sits idle.  What if we thought more about our “stewardship of space”?  In what ways can your church use its building beyond worship?

Theology of Hospitality:

Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”~Matthew 10:40

The Church is called to hospitality.  Welcoming the stranger is at the heart of who we are.  When we extend hospitality to our neighbors through the stewardship of space, we create opportunities to do just what Jesus said—to welcome others and finding Christ in the encounter.

The value of sacred places in local communities:

Churches usually occupy space in a neighborhood, in a local community.  Stewardship of space invites us to think about what it means to be a good neighbor with the use of our building.  Many churches hold AA meetings and some have clothing closets or soup kitchens.  If you think about it, many programs would not happen if we did not share our space.  Churches provide free or low cost alternatives for community groups to meet when other options are out of reach.

Stewardship of space supports the mission of the church:

So many churches are struggling today with finances and membership, but while a congregation may not have much money or volunteers, we can share our building, and thereby serve God and neighbor and receive financial support for ministry.

Practical considerations for sharing space to raise money:

Most churches are non-profits and how we receive donations is critical to maintaining a non-profit status.  Here are some things to think about:

  • The leasing of property owned by the church will NOT result in the loss of the church’s exempt status for federal income tax purposes. However, the congregation may be subject to federal income tax on some or all of the net rental income if the church has outstanding indebtedness (ie, mortgage).  One exception is that 85% of the use of the church property is devoted to the church’s exempt purpose.
  • Many states, but not all, follow the federal tax treatment. If your church is in a state that does not follow federal definitions, then it is important to check with a tax professional who is knowledgeable regarding the laws in your state.
  • Local Real Estate Tax: In most states, exemptions are covered by state law but may vary county by county, so it is important to check with local taxing authorities.
  • Use appropriate language in describing the relationship between the church and its partners—“Memorandum of understanding” and donations vs. “charging rent”
  • Know your local and state laws: consult tax attorney, accountant, insurance carrier

Is space-sharing right for us?

The first thing is to find the right partners to share space in your church building.  Know the difference and legal impact between a non-profit and for-profit partner.  Think about the physical plant limitations you have versus the partner’s needs as well as the suitability of their mission and purpose.  Here are some questions to consider:

  • What is the amount of time/space needed? What will the impact be on the active ministries of the congregation?
  • Staffing needs—do you have the staff to support the needs of the partners in your building?
  • Is your congregation prepared for the impact, change, and blessing of expanding its connections to the community with its sacred space?

Space-sharing is complex…

Here are a few more things to consider:

  • What are the needs of the partner (e.g., daycares and state laws, arts/theater requirements, etc.). Negotiate who is responsible for what in meeting regulations and requirements.
  • Is your building historically designated? Will there be an impact on that designation with space sharing?
  • How is your property zoned?
  • Are your building codes up to date? (e.g., emergency lighting, fire doors, sprinkler systems, etc.). And is your building handicap accessible with compliant doors, restrooms, etc.
  • Are you aware of any hazardous materials (e.g., asbestos, lead paint, mold)
  • Be on top of risk management—sidewalks in winter, cracks in pavement, security, etc.

Stewardship of space is an important part of our overall ministry and management of the resources in our care.  Done with intention, it has the power to move us beyond transactional relationships (such as that between landlord and tenant) and into transformational relationships with the partners who share our space and the community at large.  Our thriving is connected to the communities in which we dwell, and when we come together for support and are actively invested in each other, the Spirit of God moves, grows, heals, and transforms us all.

(Compiled from the Generosity Project webinar on 11/17/2021 led by Rev. Julie Flowers, First Baptist Church, Beverly, MA and Rev. Stacy Emerson.  To view the recording, follow this link: https://register.gotowebinar.com/recording/9022414715762259212)

Rev. Stacy Emerson is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in West Hartford, CT and the Stewardship Consultant for ABCUSA.  She is also the Coordinator for The Generosity Project which is about helping congregations deepen their understanding of stewardship as a call to generosity as disciples of Jesus; re-framing the stewardship conversation; and cultivating generosity in pastors, lay people, and congregations.