6 Challenges in Portable Church (Discovering Permanent Success in a Portable Church, Part 1)


Read this if…
You are a church leader or church attender in a portable church environment.

This post in one sentence…
Finding a sense of permanence in a portable church can be challenging, but not impossible.

As a church leader, I’ve spent the better part of my professional Christian life in portable church. I’ve learned a lot, made some mistakes, found some advantages, and experience success without a building. Over the next few posts, we will talk about portable church – the challenges, opportunities, and ways to succeed.

Let’s start with your challenges…


Do you LOVE leading a church in a temporary facility?

Actually, I’m sure there are some pastors who do, but even they would readily admit portable church provides many unique challenges.


I’ve been a Lead Pastor for six years and prior served as a Family Ministry and Student Director for nearly four. That’s nearly a decade of professional Christianity, and most of these years have been spent in temporary facilities. Today, I lead a North Point Ministries campus location for Andy Stanley (Watermarke Church). We average roughly 5,000 people each week meeting in a school. We set up and tear down 40 classrooms, a gym, and a cafeteria every week.

All that to say, like many of you, I’m intimately familiar with portable church.

Before we consider the opportunities and paths to portable success, let’s identify some of the issues. Because leading in a portable facility presents many challenges.

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Why People Choose (Fill In The Blank) Over Attending Your Church

You’ve invited them to church over and over and they still refuse to come.

You’ve offered to buy them lunch after the service, but they still don’t show.

You know they need help with … marriage, parenting, purpose, grace, salvation, et. al. AND your church could be the answer, but they still have excuses to miss every Sunday.

You have tried everything. And so has the rest of your church – to no avail!

Why won’t your unchurched friends just come with you to church ONE TIME? Why won’t they accept your invitation just ONCE?

While there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer, there are certainly some solutions for the most common reasons unchurched people resist church invitations.

First, why people resist church invitations:

I recently experienced one of the most prominent reasons to miss church. The last Sunday of the year, our church is closed. We take the day off to give our staff and volunteer base a day to relax, recharge, and spend with their family and friends. So as I woke up on 10:00 a.m. Sunday morning, I caught a glimpse of what most of the world experiences on a Sunday – rest. No alarm. No rushing to get ready. No yelling at the kids. I eased into the day, and it was great. Life is so busy. We are all over-committed. We are all tired. Most families are just as busy on Saturday as during the week. So Sunday becomes the ONE day to actually rest. To sleep in.

But that’s just one reason. Here are a few more you know to be true:

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The Secret Sauce of Volunteer Recruitment and Retention.

How do you recruit and keep great volunteers?

If you have a growing church, no doubt this is a growing concern. At Watermarke, we have grown from around 500 to 5,000 in 5 years. And while that is certainly exciting, it comes with several challenges. Volunteer recruitment and retention is toward the top of the list. During our fastest growing years, keeping up with volunteer needs was an overwhelming task. If you were to look around our church today, however, you would see:

  1. Children’s ministries full of women AND men, most serving weekly, leading small groups and connecting with kids and their parents in meaningful relationships.
  2. Student ministry environments with men and women serving weekly who also attend multiple weekend retreats and summer camps with their students. Many use a portion of their vacation time to be there.
  3. Nearly as many MEN as women serving with children and students.
  4. Both churched and unchurched people helping park cars, seat guests, execute our services, and answer questions.
  5. In some areas, more volunteers than is required. In other areas, a wait-list to serve.
  6. An annual volunteer retention rate well over 90%.

As church leaders (or leaders of any volunteer-dependent organization), we know volunteer recruitment and retention is a top priority. We are always looking for new and innovative ways to capture the hearts of the disengaged while keeping the hearts of those already participating. It’s a challenge. But there is a solution.

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7 Bad Reasons People Leave Churches.

I wrote a post a few months ago called “5 Good Reasons You Should Leave Your Church.

This post struck a cord with many, but it hit me after publishing that while there ARE many good reasons to leave a church, there are some equally bad reasons, too. My guess (based on experience) is most people leave churches for bad reasons more often than for good ones. So as a counter to the previous post, here are a few terrible reasons to leave a church:

1. I’m not being fed.

Every pastor LOVES this one. If you are leaving a church because you’re not being fed, be prepared to leave the next church you attend, as well. As Christians, we should progress overtime to “self-feeders” and “other-feeders.” If you see feeding as the church’s job, you will always become “full” at any church over time and feel the need to seek out something new.

Just like an infant grows and becomes independent, we as Christians should not rely on the regurgitated food of preachers as our only source of feeding. “I’m not being fed,” is code for “It’s your job to feed me.” And it’s NOT the churches job to feed everyone equally. Most Christians just need to pick up a fork and feed themselves. That’s the best way to learn self-feeding.

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What I Learned Watching Ferguson.

What can Christians learn from the events in Ferguson?

Not necessarily politically or even racially, but with the Kingdom in mind, what can be learned?

Like many of you, I found myself last Monday night watching the grand jury verdict and the ensuing demonstrations (both peaceful and violent). I’m pretty sure the media was the only winner. There was little middle ground to be found. There was, however, much division. Where there is no middle ground, landmines always abound.

In the death of Michael Brown, I don’t pretend to know the details. The vast majority of us don’t, either. So as I searched for #Ferguson tweets while watching CNN’s coverage, I pondered what could be learned from this moment. Primarily as a Christian, what does this event teach us? Considering God’s concern for humanity — God’s desire to see all men know to Him — what should we learn?

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Should Church Be Entertaining?

Is your church entertaining?

If you answered yes, I’m guessing you have received your fair share of criticism. Not from the unchurched, nonbelievers in your community mind you, but from Christians and other churches. For some reason, many Christians and church leaders have bought into the belief that religion must be boring. That church can’t be fun. I guess we’ve associated boring to reverent. Hyper-serious to “spiritual.” Enjoyment has become a line in the religious sand. If you have fun in a religious service, it’s not really religious, and God can’t be pleased, right?

I partially understand. As Christians, we take God seriously. We take His church seriously. Most things we take seriously come with a certain level of seriousness (nobody wrote that down, I’m guessing). It makes sense.

But boring is not biblical. It’s not a matter of truth. It’s just how we’ve positioned ourselves as the church. It’s how we’ve positioned religion.

Here’s my question: Can a church be entertaining without becoming entertainment? There is a difference. Entertainment serves one point: Enjoyment. But entertaining is different. Entertaining is enjoyment with purpose. Enjoyment with a strategy.

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Tip 9. Making Church Easy to Attend (Shutting The Back Door in Your Church, Blog Series)

In this blog series, I’ve identified 9 tips to help keep people from leaving your church (i.e., shutting the back door). Here is the last tip:

TIP 9. Make Church Easy to Attend.

How easy is it for people to attend your church?

If you have a growing church (and you will if you shut the back door and keep people from leaving), odds are it’s getting more and more difficult to attend. Sometimes we don’t notice this as an issue, because when I arrive at church two hours before our first service begins, the parking lot is pretty open! But ask any of our 11:00 a.m. service attenders and they will paint a better picture. Maybe a disturbing picture.

At Watermarke, when we had a few hundred people, parking, checking-in children, finding seats, and all our other church activities was relatively easy. Actually, it was way too easy (more on that later). But as we began to grow, things became more complicated. The more we grew, the more complicated attending our church became.

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Tip 8. FOR People – All People (Shutting The Back Door in Your Church, Blog Series)

In this blog series, I’ve identified 9 tips to help keep people from leaving your church (i.e., shutting the back door). I believe all 9 are important. In this post, I’ll address tip number eight:

TIP 8. Be a church FOR people – all people.

Who is your church for?

Not theological. But practically, who is your church for?

I know what all us church leaders would say, but what if you asked people in your community? What if you asked the unchurched in your neighborhood or workplace? What if you asked the golfers teeing off on Sunday mornings?

When we get outside of our church bubble, we quickly discover the rest of the world sees the church differently. They see judgmental, homophobic, and hypocritical. They associate, for good reason, the gathering of Christians with their bad Christian experiences and an angry God.

Unfortunately, people are more familiar with what the church is AGAINST than what we are FOR. For good reason, too. Think of all the things Christians have boycotted: Disney, JC Penney, Lowes, Home Depot, UPS, PBS, Oreos, Muppets, Cheerios, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts. Cabbage Patch Dolls. Barbie. World Vision… The list goes on and on.

Now some of these boycotts might be warranted. Some might be even necessary. But from the outside looking in, the brand of Christianity is marked by the word “against.” That’s regrettable, because when we open the pages of Scripture, we see a God FOR people. A loving God who has been pursuing people their entire life. A God that is so for people that he allowed his Son to die for them. It makes me believe if God is for people, His church should be known in the same way.

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Tip 7. Avoiding the Golden Corral (Shutting The Back Door in Your Church, Blog Series)

In this blog series, I’ve identified 9 tips to help keep people from leaving your church (i.e., shutting the back door). I believe all 9 are important. In this post, I’ll address tip number seven:

TIP 7. Avoiding the Golden Corral (A.K.A.; Offer something for every segment).

Should a church cater to EVERYONE?

In short, yes, but maybe not individually. Now, this philosophy can easily get out of hand. This thinking is how many churches become the “Golden Corral” – a veritable buffet of ministries and programs; all subpar, all competing for limited resources, most with mediocre leadership, and all advertising a new fondue fountain in an attempt to convince you it will be delicious (ok, the last one might not happen, but I’ve seen it tried!).

So while churches should definitely avoid the buffet (like people should avoid Golden Corral), churches should consider segmentation programming. Here’s why offering programming for specific segments matters: If one family member hates a church, the family will eventually leave the church. And even if the family sticks it out, the children will bolt from the church (and many from their faith) at the first sign of daylight.

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Tip 6. Effective Discipleship (Shutting The Back Door in Your Church, Blog Series)

In this blog series, I’ve identified 9 tips to help keep people from leaving your church (i.e., shutting the back door). I believe all 9 are important. In this post, I’ll address tip number six:

TIP 6. Effective Discipleship.

What’s your discipleship strategy?

Hopefully you’re not stumped by the question. If so, you’ll definitely want to read on!

This question is one of a few that must be answered by every church. It’s one of the primary reasons we EXIST as a church. It goes back to that whole “go and make disciples” bit from Jesus!

Within the context of this blog series, we would say evangelism brings people into the church, but discipleship is what grows their faith. Beyond spiritual growth, however, discipleship plays a big part in keeping people at your church (i.e., shutting the back door).

Lack of effective discipleship is one of the primary reasons people church hop. We hear excuses like, “I’m not being fed,” which is often a cop-out, but behind that excuse is often a discipleship system issue.

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