A church congregation should never think about buying a building until they have successfully met together for a number of months or even years. Do not sign a long-term rental contract until your congregation is stable.
A new church congregation's needs may change quickly, or you might not yet know exactly what they are. You may be offered a cheaper rate for a long-term commitment, but the savings is not worth it if there is any chance that a poor meeting place will divide your group.
The type of meeting place to pursue depends on the needs of your church and the goals of the congregation. Small groups composed primarily of a few brethren can meet in a variety of houses or other facilities and easily inform each other of changes in location.
If, however, you know others may want to visit your congregation without much notice, or if your congregation has begun evangelism, then a stable time for services and a set place are important.
A building that is centrally located and is easy to find is important. If possible, avoid meeting in areas that are known for lack of parking, crime, noise, or other possible distractions or problems that could hinder church attendance.
The meeting room needs to be large enough to seat comfortably all of the brethren with a little space left over for unexpected guests. Seating should be arranged so that people may enter or exit with a minimum of disruption. If small children are present, a separate room should be available for parents to take crying or fussing children that would otherwise disrupt the service. Bathrooms should be located where people of all ages can easily get to them.
The facility should be cheerful both on the inside and outside. It is very hard to be excited about going to a dreary building. Ideally, the room should contain a piano, sound system, speaking stand, and chairs already set in place. These factors should enter into your decision, but not make it since there are ways to work around each of them. Below are some suggested meeting places and the pros and cons of each.
These are the obvious choice to get started. They are private, there is little cost, and bathroom, kitchen and "mother's room" facilities are always there. Nevertheless, these facilities should not be taken for granted. The host's cost for water, telephone, heat, air conditioning, paper towels, tissues, etc. will all increase. If one person's home is continually used for services, the congregation should at least offer to help clean it or to compensate them in some way.
Some cities may have zoning ordinances against a church meeting in residential areas, though the government usually cannot take any action unless one or more neighbors complain. Obviously, brethren should be careful not to offend the neighbors of the host, such as using street parking that neighbors normally use and not making excessive noise.
Existing Church Buildings
These buildings are usually designed to do exactly what you want to do. Congregations that are short on money are often happy to rent their meeting facilities when they are not using them. The major difficulty with securing the use of an existing church building is religious animosity. People may not want to rent to believers with different beliefs because that would "legitimize them." There are groups, however, such as those affiliated with Unity Ministries, that seem willing to rent facilities to a wide range of religious beliefs.
It is often difficult to know which church groups would be willing to rent their facilities for weekly services. Some groups may simply have too much trouble getting approval from their governing bodies. Others may have too many activities to make room for another group. When one group observes a Sunday Sabbath and the other a Saturday Sabbath, it can be easy to share the same space.
Many church buildings have a "fellowship hall" or "classroom" separate from their main "sanctuary." These rooms are frequently much better for setting up tables and chairs and studying the Bible in an interactive way. Many congregations are much more willing to rent these rooms than they are to rent their "sanctuary."
Numerous businesses have meeting rooms, classrooms or open-air office space that could be used for a congregation's services. Most of these businesses are not using this space on Saturday or Sunday. Their biggest concern is the security of their business: will everything in the same place each Monday morning that it was Friday at closing?
Most businesses will not let a group use their facilities unless someone who works at the business also attends the church to make sure that nothing "goes wrong."
Larger apartments, condominiums, trailer parks and retirement homes may have a meeting room that could be used for services. These facilities usually have parking, rest rooms and other essentials nearby. They are inexpensive, but usually someone from your group must live there. Before using, be sure that the sounds from any adjacent laundry, game rooms, pools, etc. will not bother the services.
Brethren need to be sensitive to the needs and rights of other tenants. If too much parking space is consumed or if adjacent game rooms are monopolized by "children from church" after services, the tenants will rightfully complain.
Community Centers, Schools
Public facilities are often very good and can be inexpensive. Unfortunately, the people who schedule such rooms may have regulations forbidding their use by church groups. The regulations vary greatly from one place to another.
Additionally, it may not be possible to have a "private" meeting in a "public" facility, which can open up potential problems. Also, consider that some public facilities are hard to reserve on a continuing basis. Civic and school special events many times take priority over someone who regularly rents a room.
Clubs or Service Buildings
Numerous social, political, and partly religious organizations build halls and meeting places and may be willing to rent them every week. In the United States, groups such as the American Legion, Eagles, Elks, Kiwanis, Knights of Columbus, Lions, Masons, Moose, Oddfellows, Rotary, and Veterans are examples.
Most groups rent their hall as a sideline to defray expenses, and will always put the needs of their own group first. Some may have a few annual events that will prevent usage on some weeks. Make sure several people see the meeting facilities before agreeing to rent them - some have a permanent odor of cigarettes; some are poorly maintained.
Halls for Rent
These facilities are usually more expensive, but dealing with them is straightforward since their owners are in business to make a profit. If you agree to their price and make reservations before other customers, they will usually agree to rent their facility years in advance. There may be extra charges around holidays when hall demand is higher.
It is generally better to pay a higher price for a hall than to go through the confusion of changing to a different building. Realize, though, that if someone else wants to book the facility for a solid week or more, the owner would not like to refuse them just because a congregation has booked the facility for part of a day. The bigger the local church, the more important a consistent place to have services will be.
Hotel and Restaurant Rooms
Finding this kind of meeting place for church is easy to find, but relatively difficult to book on a consistent basis. Hotels and restaurants build rooms to attract customers to their main business, not to specifically make money from rentals.
Other difficulties with these types of rooms include noise from other customers, lack of privacy, no "mother's room" and often a complete prohibition from bringing in any kind of food into the facility.