By Jennifer Johnson
It’s common for church plants to meet in school buildings, and leaders in those new churches happily haul gear, set up rooms for children, and tear down worship spaces each week. It’s much less common for decades-old congregations to give up their buildings and go back to this way of worshipping, but for Journey Christian Church in Roswell, GA, this facility decision is opening up new opportunities for ministry.
When Dan Garrett became lead pastor at Journey (then First Christian Church of Roswell) in 2011, the church was paying off $2.5 million in debt. The church had built a new sanctuary a few years earlier, and the payments on it, as well as expenses for maintenance and landscaping on its seven-acre property, consumed half of the church’s budget.
“We managed the payments, but it was difficult to grow or do significant outreach,” Garrett says. “In 2014 we began convening focus groups and discussing possible next steps, and one of our leaders said, ‘What if we had $100,000? What would we do?’ And it transformed the entire meeting, from ‘we have to sell and give up and get out of debt’ to ‘we could reach this community and support these missionaries.’ It felt like God’s Spirit was leading us.”
The church leadership team was careful to honor the investments of time and money so many families had made to build the sanctuary, and they held meetings to present the financial facts as well as the future vision. At the end of 2015, the church voted 95 percent in favor of selling the building, and just a few weeks later a charter school made an offer on the property for more than Garrett and his team expected.
“This helped our people understand the decision wasn’t a defeat or a panicked financial move,” Garrett says. “We decided to tithe off the sale, and we gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to global, national, and local ministries. We continue to give generously, and we’re having so much fun. When it’s a local [ministry] effort, we invite the director to worship with us and we interview that person during the service so that as a church we’re connecting with these ministries and not just writing checks.”
As for those worship services, Journey now gathers each Sunday in a high school, where the media center offers a pleasant spot with big tables and lots of chairs. People share Communion around the tables, pouring the juice and serving the bread to each other.
“We’re a church plant with some money,” Garrett says. “Money to give, money to meet our budget, and money to do outreach in ways we never could before. Now that we don’t own a place for people to come to, we’re constantly thinking about how we can go to them.”
He acknowledges that Journey’s decision isn’t the right choice for every church, but suggests that more congregations—especially those struggling financially—should consider it as an option.
“I celebrated our people and our leaders for being visionary enough to see that our purpose is reaching our community, not having a building,” Garrett says. “For us, it was a move from maintenance and mortgage to ministry and mission.”