Churches with unused building space possess a unique opportunity to serve their community by sharing space with other organizations, and many Alabama churches are maximizing the use of their buildings while increasing their ministry footprint in that way.
For more than 30 years Southside Baptist Church, Birmingham, has been seizing that opportunity by housing other congregations and compatible nonprofits.
According to Timothy Kelley, pastor for congregational ministries at Southside, the church began hosting other groups to maximize the use of a space provided by the generations who had gone before. The congregation, which boasted 3,800 members at its peak, now has around 300 active members.
‘Compelled by love’
“We are compelled by the love of Christ to ask ourselves how we can use [the building] in more ways.” Kelley said. “God is not dependent on us to start the work. He is already out there doing things and we just have to keep our eyes open and ask ourselves how we can use the resources that are ours to do something for the cause of Christ in this community.”
Building sharing began at Southside in the late 1970s when the church hosted a Christian outreach to local Chinese believers. Since then, a variety of churches, nonprofits and civic groups have come and gone from the Southside campus.
In the late 1980s, the church became home to Bridge Ministries, a homeless outreach, and Family Promise, a shelter for homeless families. Both ministries still serve the homeless from the Southside campus.
“We have been blessed by people who went before,” Kelley said. “We couldn’t justify our congregation staying here if we didn’t have enough people to do the work, to do the basic ministries. If we partner with non-profits and other churches, we can continue to be a presence here.”
Several nonprofits make their home at Southside, including Alabama Possible, Collaborative Solutions and Family Promise of Birmingham.
A ministry called Jesus Said Feed the Hungry uses the Southside kitchen to cook for the homeless of Birmingham and Maranatha Academy, a school for at-risk students also shares space at Southside.
The facility is currently home to several congregations, including Korean Baptist Church, Lighthouse International Church, The Church in Birmingham and Iron City Church.
Iron City Church, launched in 2013 by Valleydale Church, Birmingham, completed a building usage agreement in August, holding evening worship services as well as children’s and college ministries on the Southside campus.
While churches may choose to lease their space, Southside charges a building usage fee that helps to offset the cost of utilities. Each hosted entity must be a non-profit organization and carry liability insurance, Kelley said.
In addition, each group provides Southside with a copy of its bylaws, articles of incorporation and financial statements, along with a list of current employees and board members. Both parties enter into a building use agreement that lays out the terms of the building usage.
Sharing space with multiple congregations is “maximizing the use of that which God’s people have left for us,” Kelley said.
First Baptist Church, Center Point, also has found creative ways to use its facility by sharing a large metal building they lovingly call “the barn” with the Birmingham Metro Baptist Association to store disaster relief equipment. A nearby mission house will also serve as disaster relief headquarters when available.
“We want [the association] to have a place where the equipment can be out of the weather, and they can work on it in a sheltered environment,” said David Haynes, pastor of First, Center Point.
The facility has been offered to the association at no cost, Haynes said.
Sharing space with other groups does come with its fair share of challenges which can include scheduling and parking concerns.
From a legal standpoint, the two most important space-sharing concerns for the host church are liability and taxable income, according to Jim Swedenburg, director of Cooperative Program and stewardship development for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.