Uncommon Grounds: Changing the Way we Think about Church Facilities


I met Pastors Darryl and Kimberly Thompson in January of 2008. Their church, House of Fire Ministries of Rock Island, Illinois was experiencing transformation and rapid growth in their church despite the economy downturn unfolding at the time, and they had begun to explore options for a new facility that would house their growing church and dynamic vision for neighborhood transformation.

The Thompsons had heard about my experience working for Salem Baptist Church and New Life Covenant Church in Chicago as both churches had grown and strategically purchased, renovated and relocated their ministries to new facilities. When my firm initially engaged them, the plan was fairly normal: develop a strategic plan to expand the Church’s capacity for growth. The plan would help them to identify resources, train and equip leaders, and find a good location, with plenty of land, upon which to build a traditional church with a sanctuary, offices, classrooms and fellowship space.

As the search to find land ensued, an interesting opportunity found them.


A 23,000 sq. ft. mall that was home to a former grocery store and 4 existing businesses, including a thriving restaurant, came on the market for a reasonable price…and the selling was offering to finance the deal.  At first, we rejected the idea for its complexity. But after prayer, further consultation and a little creativity, it soon became clear that this property presented a unique opportunity for the church to make significant spiritual, social and economic change in the Quad Cities

The Church purchased the property easily; and the rent from the existing business fully paid the mortgage! Next, they formed Embassy Square Mall,  a unique not-for-profit/for profit hybrid serving one of our city’s busiest commercial and residential corridors of the city. Their vision of community revitalization and stabilization will be realized through a collaboration of commercial, municipal, community, and faith-based entities that have in mind the best interests of the people of the city. Now, two years later, the Embassy Square is home to several long-term business tenants, including a restaurant, beauty salon, beauty supply store and wireless phone distributor. The Church will also soon open a quick-service restaurant that has already secured part of its funding for its unique business model, but it will also provide job training to youth, and offer out-of-school activities for youth and children.

More and more, churches are realizing these kind of opportunities for ministry in third places, or non-traditional ministry sites typically at the center of culture, community and/or business. And as these spaces allow churches to connect more quickly and easily with non Christians in places they are passionate to reach, they also offer churches fresh, innovative and more affordable ways of doing ministry.

Ja’Mel Armstrong, Pastor of the Soul Center Church in Louisville, Kentucky, is an Evangelical Covenant Church plant, and one of the churches I provide in strategic church plant coaching. Armstrong was seeking a new facility that would allow his vibrant, growing young church to engage a transforming, multicultural community.


The Soul Center found a bar and grill in Old Louisville that hosted local bands and shows during the week in its large room, and served food and drinks through its restaurant. It was a perfect location for the Church, mainly because bars don’t see much activity on Sundays. “We love the environment that this provides not only for worship, but also fellowship,” Armstrong said. “I can see our church growing here, and launching out to reach people for Christ.”



When I went to preach for Engedi Church in Holland, Michigan, the Church was holding 2 services in a renovated space in the storefront of a strip mall. Just a few years old, the church has experienced incredible growth, and has done a remarkable job renovating their current space.

engediHowever, following the worship services, Pastor Brian Aulick walked my wife and I through an unusual work God was doing for the Church just next door. “Our Church just began to pray about how the Lord could use us to reach more people for Christ in our region, “Aulick explained, “And we launched a capital campaign to develop a facility that would increase our capacity to do outreach and develop disciples for ministry. “We knew that the old K-Mart building next door had been vacant for some time, and we thought it would be the best space…but instead of making an offer to purchase, we felt God leading us to ask the owners to donate the building.” They did ask…and they received. A 110,000 sq. ft. property was given to the Church–for free.


“As we counted up the cost of renovation, one of our members told us that they were ready to commit 1 million dollars of their own money to the project,” Aulick shared, still reeling from the generosity of both the property owners and the member gift. “It has been incredible to simply sit back and watch God lead us into this amazing project.” The newly renovated facility will feature a 1200 seat sanctuary, offices, classrooms and space dedicated for youth and children, including an indoor basketball court and skating rink. The Church plans to begin relocating its ministry and operations to the new space in September.

Helping Churches discover new and innovative ways to expand their capacity for ministry using space has become a passion for me and our firm. I enjoy serving churches like these by coaching pastors and church boards in discernment, facilitating search processes, training staff and volunteers in relocating operations to new spaces and overseeing collaborations in tax accounting anddesign/architecture to provide solutions that fit each unique situation. Through experiences serving churches like these in urban, suburban and rural contexts, it has been remarkable to watch God form unique opportunities for these mission-driven ministries to reach people for Christ, and to develop ministry right where people need it most.

“The cross must be raised again at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am claiming that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap, at a crossroads so cosmopolitan they had to write His title in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble, because that is where He died and that is what he died about and that is where churchmen ought to be and what churchmen should be about…” 

– George McLeod

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