Buying Too Small
What are the benefits of buying a building that your church can’t fit into?
The church I am a member of in Leicester meets on a Sunday in a primary school hall. We have a good relationship with the school, the rental price keeps overheads down, and at times we can use the space during the week for youth clubs and the like.
But there is time and effort associated with every meeting with the set-up and break-down, let alone cleaning and tidying. We need to store equipment somewhere and find other venues for anything else we plan.
Many church leaders will relate to the advantages and disadvantages of venue-hire life and maybe have a desire for a more permanent place to call home.
So, I was intrigued to visit Christ Church Trumpington’s Church Centre and learn that the main Sunday gathering takes place in a school hall down the road. This church had purchased a building they couldn’t fit into.
A growing church
As with many locations across the country, a large-scale development had planned to double the population of Trumpington - a fast-growing suburb on the southern edge of Cambridge - to 17,000 people.
Christ Church Trumpington (CCT) was planted from Rock Baptist Church in 2014 to “respond to the need for gospel witness in the growing communities in and around Trumpington”, which included a hospital and biomedical campus attracting staff from all over the world. The ‘ends of the earth’ were coming to Trumpington and they needed to know the gospel.
CCT began their church life with meetings in a local primary school.
Less than two years later, and just a few weeks after CCT became a fully independent church, they received a call from the city centre church that owned the former Trumpington Free Church chapel and hall, built a century before.
They had been using the building as office space but contacted them to ask if they wanted to buy the site themselves.
Exciting opportunity or expensive distraction?
Andrew Sweasey has been pastor at CCT since the beginning.
“We were still a young church, we didn’t have anywhere near the purchase price in the bank, and though the chapel space was great, our Sunday congregation would only just fit in. We were ambitious to grow as church so we weren’t sure if this was an exciting opportunity or an expensive distraction” he explained.
“We decided to push on to see if this would be a door the Lord would open for us to have a building we could grow into as a church, albeit with our eyes open to the fact that it wouldn’t provide a Sunday morning gathering space.”
Call me naive or uncreative, but it had never occurred to me that a church would buy a building too small for them. Andrew helped me understand more.
Although the site wouldn’t serve them on a Sunday morning, a visible and permanent base in Trumpington would allow them to engage more consistently with the immediate community as they walked past each day. Plus, they could bring the other activities of the church (that took up less space) into one venue, knowing they could use it whenever they liked.
Eventually, with the help of a local Christian Trust, internal fundraising, and goodwill on all sides, the building was purchased in 2017.
The church still meets on a Sunday morning in the school hall, which is just a two-minute walk along the same street. But during the week, the old chapel and hall is alive with midweek meetings and an office where church staff work together. Plus it serves as a helpful storage space.
Certainty of use
The change has unlocked the ability to easily start and connect ministries throughout the week and across the year.
“We spent a lot of time previously having to book venues in Trumpington for anything we wanted to do that needed more space than someone’s front room and were always clock-watching for when our booking was coming to an end,“ Andrew said.
“In our own space, those precious end-of-session conversations can carry on after an event or activity has finished without having to worry about having to get out of the building.”
Now CCT know they can use their own building whenever they like, it’s been simpler to start new ministries and connect people to something else happening in the same space. “Inviting people to something outside of their comfort zone but in a familiar place has real benefits, I think.”
Some of the activities that take place in the Church Centre that were more difficult to do before include:
- Weekly baby and toddler group.
- Weekly international café and English conversation classes.
- Exploring Christianity courses.
- The local foodbank once a week.
- Women’s midweek Bible study.
- Youth group.
- Men’s discipleship group and breakfast events.
- Outreach events such as Easter treasure hunts, candlelit carol services, and meals.
- Sunday evening services and prayer meetings.
- Regular church lunches.
Worth the risk
Of course, the process hasn’t been all smooth sailing.
“Having come from a church that only ever met in a school we’ve had to learn what it is to care for and maintain a building, both in terms of time and cost, “ explained Andrew.
“Last year we completed a project to improve the accessibility of the building with a new fully accessible toilet, ramp, and other associated modifications. We’ve redecorated the hall and in the last few months have refurbished the main chapel space which was looking particularly tired. We’re now refreshing paintwork on the outside of the buildings, and so it continues!”
But, overall, the building's purchase has enabled this young church to reach out to the lost and have space to grow.
“It’s been great to have a central building space. Whilst we know that a church is not its building, it does send a message to the wider community of something solid, permanent, and familiar. Whilst it doesn’t tick every box you might dream of when you think about a church building, it has and continues to allow us to grow as a church and make all sorts of ideas and opportunities possible.
An exciting opportunity that, as we look back over the last seven years, has been well worth the risk as we seek to proclaim Christ to our community.”