How to Overcome the Challenges of a Portable Church
Several years ago, I helped transition our church from a single-site church to a 3-campus multisite church. One of our new locations was going to meet in a local movie theater, which meant we needed to think about how to do portable or mobile church well.
Lots of churches are set up as mobile churches, particular new church plants and congregations operating on a shoe-string budget. Some meet in school gyms, movie theaters, community centers, or other facilities that are easy for churches to load their equipment and supplies into and out of each Sunday. The popularity of the mobile church approach continues to grow because it’s affordable and cost effective. Mobile church can be a great option—but when you choose a mobile church format, clear communication becomes even more essential.
When using someone else’s facility, a church needs to be obsessively detailed and purposeful in how they communicate their church’s message. Here are three things to think about if you’re a portable church.
Signage & Branding
One of the most overlooked areas of communication in portable churches is signage. When you have poor signage—or worse, none at all—you are adding, a sometimes insurmountable, barrier for new people who want to visit. Even if the building you’re using has decent signage and mapping for itself, you need to think about what this looks like for a visitor trying to find your church on a Sunday morning.
Often, a mobile church will use only certain areas of a rented building. The main entrance on Sunday may not be the building’s main entrance for the other 6 days of the week. Think about a first-time guest, and what they’re experiencing.
Try to invite them in by being overly clear about where to park, where to enter, and where to go inside the building. That may mean you need to cover the regular signage for the building. You may need to find ways to minimize distractions and draw focus to your own brand and sign. And don’t underestimate the power of a large parking lot crew and welcome team to reassure people that they’re in the right place.
Once you’ve got people inside the building and in the auditorium (or theater, or gym, or cafetorium), it’s time to think about next steps. Being a portable church can make it difficult to connect people to next steps opportunities like mid-week events, Bible studies, or service opportunities. So be purposeful about how you’re going to communicate upcoming events to visitors, both while they’re in Sunday service and also throughout the week.
What is a new person’s next step if they want to know more about your church? How do they sign up to get more information? In permanent churches, it’s easy to have a next steps area, a connection area, or a cafe. In portable churches, we often need to be a little more creative. There are a number of digital solutions like a specific web address with details for next steps or a new visitor text message signup.But if your space allows, consider also setting up a temporary connections area in a lobby area.
Think about how you’re enabling people to take the next step in getting connected to your church. Then be clear during the worship service about how to get to that next level.
Communicating clearly is always important for churches. But it becomes even more vital when your church doesn’t have a permanent location. Think through your communication strategy and be as simple and clear as possible in everything you communicate. And Make sure there’s a central location where anyone can get any information they need at any time—in a portable church situation, a website is probably the best place for this. A strategy for communication needs to be thought through and prepared in advance. Always be thinking: What are you communicating? And how?
Is your church a mobile church? What tips would you add to this list?