After the death of their founding pastor a few years ago, membership at Cullen Missionary Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, took a nosedive.
With less revenue coming in pledges and with the expenses of keeping the city-block-sized church running, “we had more space than we knew what to do with and didn’t have the people or resources to pay for it,” said current pastor Andre Jones.
That’s when the Cullen MBC turned to Church Space, a platform akin to Airbnb that allows houses of worship to rent their sanctuaries, fellowship halls and kitchens to other congregations and organizations for as much as $30,000 a year.
“Without Church Space, I don’t know if we would still be here,” said Jones. “Those funds and resources that came in have been lifesaving.”
Since COVID-19 struck in March 2020, many churches have found themselves in Cullen MBC’s position. Faced with declining revenues and empty buildings, churches have looked for ways to make a virtue of unused space.
Some have rented out offices and classrooms for those working and learning remotely. Others have hosted “ghost kitchens” that allow restaurants without storefront locations to prepare food for delivery services like Door Dash or Uber Eats. During the pandemic, Church Space has grown from 45 renters and churches—to more than 3,700.
The boom in church rentals has its dark side. “We have also unfortunately seen a 200% increase in funeral rentals,” said Day Edwards, co-founder of Church Space.
Edwards and her co-founder, Emmanuel Brown, launched Church Space in Houston in 2019. The churches who participated in Church Space’s pilot program earned an average of $23,000-$38,000 in their first year, according to Edwards.
Church Space currently has about 150 host sites across the U.S. and tends to be concentrated across the Bible Belt. Brown, a pastor himself, said Church Space is “for churches and by church leaders” and works to ensure that host churches are matched with renters who share their values.
“We truly believe that when churches earn more they’re able to do more, not just in their congregation but also in their community,” said Edwards.
The Church Space model allows participating churches to maintain their tax-exempt status, though the co-founders declined to share additional details. “It’s something that sets Church Space apart from the other competitors,” said Edwards.
A different, Nashville-based company is offering a church-based charitable approach to vacationing with church buildings that have closed. Called Mission Hotels, the five-year-old company’s three refurbished churches no longer host weekly worship and instead host guests in beds fashioned with church pew headboards.
Mission Hotels’ model is similar to traditional Bed and Breakfast inns except that most of the profits are donated to local charities.
Micah Lacher, owner of Mission Hotels, is a person of faith who sees the hotels as a way to continue the mission of the original churches.
“We are providing a refuge and home for our guests with every stay,” said Lacher. “We are pouring into the community and creatively meeting needs for those who are underserved. These churches were doing just the same when they were in the spaces.”
Lacher estimates that Mission Hotels’ donations have been used to provide more than 100,000 showers, meals and beds through their nonprofit partners Nashville Rescue Mission, ShowerUp Nashville, Room in the Inn and People Loving Nashville.