Dream Big in a Portable Space

Last Updated on: Apr 10, 2019 @ 1:33 pm

At its core, to become a Level 5 Multiplying Church, you must plant churches—and many of them. While permanent facilities continue to be the dream of most church planters, the high cost, long lead times, and inflexibility of permanent facilities make them an impractical and unwise launch strategy. Thus, churches that want to multiply are launching in rented spaces like schools, movie theaters, and community centers that will give them the freedom to expand. How can this be done cost-effectively and well without losing your mind? What are the challenges of launching a church in a rented venue? How have other churches and networks overcome these challenges and thrived?

I Need More Volunteers

Churches often share that their biggest fear with portability is finding enough volunteers and keeping them engaged. Launching strong in a portable site – defined as one that must be set up and torn down each week – requires more volunteers than permanent facilities. However, as is the case with most challenges, this can be an incredible opportunity for engagement and discipleship that doesn’t exist in a permanent campus.

Volunteers Want to Be Known

Intentional discipleship of volunteers is critical for their growth and their continued service at church. When it comes to setup and teardown teams, this is no different. Churches that begin with a strategy of discipleship in the selection and care of their setup team leaders are more successful. This requires team leaders who will see the setup/teardown experience not just as tasks that must be completed each week, but as opportunities to pour into people as they convert the venue into a sacred space.

Volunteers Want to Be Needed

There are many people that come to your church, often men, who are intimidated by serving in Children’s Ministry, prayer ministries, and as greeters. However, they will come early to drive trucks, move cases, and set up the audio equipment. Setup and teardown teams give those men an opportunity to be needed. It provides a new onramp to begin to engage with others in your church. As they engage more, they will attend more and grow more—if you care for them in the process.

Volunteers Want to Be Cared For

Over my 30+ adult years in church, I have served as a volunteer in many capacities. I have received the annual thank you gifts of flowers, Starbucks gift cards, and In N Out burgers (my favorite). But, the way I felt most cared for all those years of service was when the church invested in leadership development and the systems to maximize my impact as the volunteer. When I arrived at church knowing exactly what my role was, I was equipped to do that role, and when my leader encouraged me, I felt cared for. As a setup/teardown volunteer of many years, I felt cared for when my church invested in a system that allowed regular volunteers without much experience to easily participate, effectively set up, create a welcoming environment, and then tear down quickly.

Volunteer-Centric Portability Engineers Are Required Upfront

I recently crossed the Mackinac bridge that connects Michigan’s lower peninsula to its upper peninsula. The bridge, built in 1957, is the world’s longest suspension bridge between anchorages. Construction took three and a half years (four summers, no winter construction) and, tragically, the lives of five workers. As I was in the middle, 200 feet above the icy connection of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, I was grateful for the expertise and skill of the engineers that designed it. I got straight A’s in math and science in high school and college, but that doesn’t mean I can design a bridge. It turns out that designing outstanding volunteer-centric portable systems that deliver an excellent worship, children’s, and visitor experience is an engineering specialty.

I learned this the hard way when I was Executive Pastor of Pacific Crossroads Church in Los Angeles when we didn’t have a volunteer-centric solution. Our staff designed our own portable systems for our two rented venues by utilizing a premier audio/video company in LA that specialized in permanent church solutions. In short order, we wore out the volunteers and had to move to paid setup and teardown teams each week.

In contrast, now as CEO of Portable Church Industries, I have witnessed literally hundreds of churches utilize our portability engineers and launch both small and very large churches with complex state-of-the-art audio, video, lighting experiences using volunteers who can completely convert the school/theater/community center into a house of worship in an hour. The volunteers don’t even break a sweat and are available to serve in other areas on Sundays. It can be done!


A core component to Dreaming Big in a Portable Space that is often overlooked is your setup/teardown volunteers. Looking at them through a lens of discipleship, knowing them, and investing in systems that enable them to be effective volunteers is the best way to develop a thriving community and effective ministry that can launch even more churches.