Space means money: Part 2 in a series
This is the second part of a two-part series discussing Summit County faith groups that meet at unconventional sites. Part 1 discusses how these congregations’ meeting places affect worship, while Part 2 discusses the financial side of finding a gathering place for a local congregation.
SUMMIT COUNTY When Jimmy Humphreys moved from Denver to Summit County about 4.5 years ago following a spiritual call to be a local pastor, he didn’t know what form his mission would take. His goal was to start a church, but realizing the difficulty so many congregations have in establishing themselves, Humphreys took the approach that one has to “be part of the community before you do anything.”The first incarnation of what would become Breckenridge’s Great Divide Calvary Chapel began as a prayer group in the basement of the house Humphreys lived in. As the group outgrew the basement, they jumped locations for three years, meeting in Pedal and Bean, Carter Park, Breckenridge Elementary, Extreme Pizza – just looking for “anywhere you can find to meet,” Humphreys said.About 1.5 years ago, Humphreys’ focus on making relationships in the community returned dividends for Great Divide in a big way. An acquaintance of Humphreys – their children went to school together – bought Abby Hall, the former Masonic lodge on Breckenridge’s Main Street, and offered Great Divide a meeting place there every week.”Location is definitely the key there,” Humphreys said of Abby Hall. “It’s a rarity to be able to meet on Main Street in Breckenridge, so for location and convenience it was an improvment.”While the list of Great Divide’s locations is longer than most congregations’, difficulties finding a meeting place are common among Summit County faith groups without a building of their own.Many congregation leaders said high property costs are a big reason they find themselves meeting in unconventional worship locations, but they are divided on whether or not one day owning a place of their own is part of their vision.Some leaders said their location has come to feel like home, even if their congregation uses it for only a couple hours each week. That’s true for High Country Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, which meets in the County Community and Senior Center.”In our congregation there is not a significant desire to have a place of our own,” said fellowship president Susan Robertson. “I think people have a real sense of belonging at the Community Center.”Mike Phillips, pastor of Immanuel Fellowship, which meets in the Community Center after High Country UU each Sunday, said his church’s venue suits the congregation well, and that members have no qualms with meeting in an unusual location. “There’s no evidence of the early church meeting in actual church buildings, so we don’t feel that’s a necessity,” he said. “To be honest, sometimes we wish we had our own church building, and we may one day, but it’s not really a high priority for us.”Meeting in an unconventional venue can even have publicity benefits. One Community Church, which meets in Dillon’s Skyline Cinema, runs on-screen advertisements for its service before each showing at the theater. Pastor Brent Smith said probably more people tell him they learned of the church while watching a movie at Skyline Cinema than through any other form of advertising.One Community Church’s move to the theater about 4.5 years ago was the end of Smith’s frustrating search for a meeting place, which shows that not only property cost, but availability can be a burden to faith groups. “We had looked all over the community for space, and no one would give us a space for 52 weeks a year,” Smith said.Skyline Cinema agreed to house One on Sundays because another theater in its parent chain, Trans-Lux, had a good experience hosting a church in Longmont.When asked if One plans to move out of the theater someday, Smith said, “I don’t know that we will. There are advantages to the location.”But that’s not the case for every congregation. According to Islamic law, Muslim congregations must have a space set aside solely for worship, so Summit County Muslims currently meet in an apartment in Silverthorne’s Blue River Apartments which they use only for prayer.Oumar Niang, one of the congregation’s leaders, said the current location is “very challenging” to the group for many reasons, and that they are actively seeking a better venue. But local property costs bring even more challenges for the moque than for other faith groups, because Islamic law prohibits doing transactions with interest. To buy property, the congregation must have the total amount for a down payment in hand – something not likely anytime soon, Niang said.Property costs mean that even for congregations in a relatively good financial position, the prospect of building a permanent home is daunting. A family attending High Country Church, which meets in Silverthorne Elementary, sold 5.5 acres to the church at a good price, but building on the land would still cost the congregation $2 million to $3 million, said pastor Jeff Estes.”Until we get to a size that’s really stable, a core group of people that’s not just in and out, we probably can’t financially afford to build,” Estes said. But even if the church did have the money, “I’d hate to see us sink $2 million to $3 million into a building and to see what we could do with that money for ministry.” he added.The transient nature of Summit County spills over into its faith communities, a problem Estes alluded to when discussing High Country Church’s dilemma in building on its property. He said the church has had three cycles of rebuilding, when several member families left Summit County at the same time.Smith said One Community Church has faced the same struggles. “People come and they move. That’s just the way the community is,” he said. “We have turned over our church three times in the last four years.”For congregations that may have plans to buy a space of their own, the reality of high member turnover means raising the money is a hard challenge to overcome. “Because of the expense in this county of what land and rental space is, I think you’re going to have to be a church of 300 or 400 to afford it,” Smith said.Whether or not they see their congregations in the same meeting place long-term, leaders said meeting in unconventional venues has helped them see that having a prestige location isn’t necessary for meaningful worship. “For me,” Humphreys said, “I just want to have a roof over our heads, and hopefully heat and a place to set up the sound system to minister the love of God to people.”Andy Bruner can be contacted at (970) 668-4620, or at email@example.com.
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