I’ve spent about 10 years in two different portable churches. I was a worship leader at the first one and I’ve been in multiple roles at my current church. I’ve learned a thing or two during that decade. Some of that education was hard-fought and some of it was gleaned from good friends at other portable churches.
First, I want to acknowledge that not all portable churches are young church plants. Many portable churches are established and they’ve chosen to go portable for any of a variety of reasons.
Whether you’re leading a portable campus of a larger church, a portable location after outgrowing your previous permanent location, or you’re a scrappy church plant with no budget…I hope this post can help you find ways to reduce stress for you, your team, and every volunteer in your church.
Setup and Breakdown Team Happiness is Vital
Notice I didn’t say “efficiency”. That’s because the people who show up at 6am on Sundays and leave at 2pm are there because they’re bought in and they like the people they’re serving with. Sure, they’ll always appreciate someone who makes their job easier, but the difference between a 60-minute setup and a 50-minute setup doesn’t matter much if the team isn’t happy.
You can keep your Sunday Sweat Teams happy with a few small gestures. Bring bottles of water. Play some music on a portable sound stereo. Show up prepared as the leader. You can take it a step further and pre-train new setup and breakdown volunteers via video training so they show up ready to go.
Always Be Thinking How You Can Make the Kids Experience Better
Kids that have fun at church will drag their parents back, too. Portable churches have a bad habit of relegating kids’ ministry environments to less-than-stellar experiences. A few soft mats on the ground in a classroom isn’t going to cut it.
Spend the money on a TV for each room, enough pipe-and-drape to make each room feel like a special space, and hallway signage that wasn’t printed on your office printer. Maybe even get shirts for your volunteers.
These small changes can reduce stress because you won’t be chasing families that come in for a week or two and then disappear. You’ll find that more families will stay long enough to give you a fighting chance at building a relationship with them.
Proactively Manage Your Landlord Relationship
The worst thing you can do is talk to your landlord once a year at contract renewal. You should be in constant contact with your landlord, if not weekly, then twice a month. You should be checking in to make sure you’re using the space in a respectful way for whoever else uses the space, like teachers or movie theater employees.
If you want to solidify your relationship, invest improving the space in a way that benefits everyone that uses it. That may mean buying new AV equipment that’s permanently installed, with the landlord’s blessing, of course. Or you could give the hallways a fresh coat of paint each year.
A little proactive communication and generosity go a long way to make your stay in a portable location less stressful.
You Need a “Systems Person” on Your Staff
We all love a great communicator and faith-filled dreamers, but you need someone on your staff or as a senior volunteer that’s thinking about the nuts-and-bolts. You need someone who’s thinking about schedules for each individual volunteer and how you’re going to pull off training without a midweek facility.
Your systems person should have a perspective that lets them see into every area of church life and business. That means they need to be at staff meetings, facility meetings with the landlord, and have a voice in each volunteer team. They don’t need to be running each of those areas, but they should be present and alert.
Have More Volunteers On Call Than You Need
Most churches tend to get by with just enough volunteers. And then, if you do ask for more volunteers, it’s only after you’re already shorthanded.
Instead, you need more volunteers than you think. That’s because in a portable environment things go wrong regularly. You’ll find yourself pulling greeter volunteers to help with cleaning a bathroom or getting AV volunteers to also setup fans when the AC is broken.
Having a surplus of volunteers ready to go means you won’t be short-staffed on a regular basis. And it also means you’ll not be panicking when you need to relocate a team to a different task. You’ll always have enough people to cover.
Reduce Churchwide Midweek Events to the Bare Minimum
A major pain-point for portable churches is how to do all those things that don’t normally happen on a Sunday morning. Since you don’t have access to your facility during the week, you’ll need to find a different way to pull off training meetings, fellowship events, and special occasions.
That’s why you need to work hard to keep your midweek schedule lightweight. There’s already a natural tendency to say no to things since you don’t have a facility to pull them off. However, that also means not doing some things that are necessary.
For example, many many portable churches try to squeeze volunteer training in on Sunday mornings before church. I’ve never seen that work well. Some training happens, but you’ll never get all the training done that needs to happen.
So, instead, move your training online so people can complete it at home on their own schedule. You can do it for free, albeit a little disjointed, with a Facebook Page or a YouTube channel, or you can keep it organized with TrainedUp. In either case, you’ll be doing it better than a Sunday morning pow-wow.
Don’t Give Up on Creating Time and Space for Fellowship
The one thing I’ve seen time and time again is portable churches leaning too heavily on Sunday mornings and home groups alone for the only interactions their church folks have with one another. Because scheduling and facilitating church-wide fellowship is hard in a portable church, it’s often avoided or entirely rejected.
While your church isn’t always going to be small enough to make a church-wide fellowship valuable or possible, most portable churches are small enough to see great fruit from it. Use a school’s football field or a public park or a local community center instead of your normal Sunday location. The time together will solve lots of other problems.
Budget Based on Future Expenses
Finally, the biggest mistake I’ve seen portable churches make is to spend all of their non-facility budget on staffing. Hiring is good, especially when done right, but if your budget is too staff-heavy, you won’t have margin to move when you outgrow your facility. Plus, your church will be in the habit of hiring to solve problems instead of finding volunteers to plug gaps.
Churches that lean more on volunteers, having a staff-to-attendee ratio between 1/120 and 1/160, are consistently growing and finding new ways to creatively use the budgetary margin. Churches with a lower staff-to-attendee ratio are usually under constant budget pinch and ministry budgets tend to suffer.
So, if you can discipline yourself to find volunteers to cover leadership gaps instead of hiring to fill those gaps, you’ll find you’ll have both more financial margin and greater buy-in from your people. And both of those benefits will chisel huge chunks of rock off the stress ball on your back.