Reshaping the Church

Two congregations, one building

Posted November 13, 2023

by Evan Louey-Dacus

Many Christians take for granted that their congregation owns and operates their own space. Some congregations like Mission Church in Memphis, Tennessee, even have their own coffee shop.

Compare that with churches in large cities, like New York. For a church looking to plant roots in New York, it is difficult to get a building at all, much less a building with space for a coffee shop, a library or a Sunday school.

In the Manhattan borough of New York City, space is scarce and expensive. Rent is more than 70% higher than the national median, according to Zillow.

In at least one case, this problem has led to multiple congregations using and occupying the same building.

One example of two churches sharing a single building is Rock Church, an evangelical church on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. They hold services every Sunday at 2 p.m. They also host Providence Baptist Church, a Reformed Baptist church which meets at 10:30 a.m. in the same building, on the same day.

Congregants of both PBC and Rock Church sit in the same pews, use the same sound system for hymns and fill the same baptistry for baptisms.

In an interview with Koinesúnē Magazine, Andrew Woodard, a pastor from Providence Baptist Church discussed his experiences leading a congregation that shares a building.

The church building is modest, with room for less than 500 attendees, but also charming. The seats have comfortable cushions and the stage can be fully broken down to fill an indoor full-immersion baptistry.

Andrew Woodard is on the left and his wife Emma is on the right - Photo by Providence Baptist Church

In 2020, PBC was a small home church. Woodward said he was on friendly terms with some board members of Rock Church, which had no pastor at the time.

“Because we had a pastor and no building, and they had a building but no pastor, that was how the conversation got started,” Woodard said.

While PBC and Rock Church share a healthy relationship, they are separately established and associated with different denominations, Woodward said. Instead of merging congregations, both share the pulpit at different times of the day.

On paper, it sounds like each church simply uses the same space at different times, which would affect day-to-day operations very little. In reality, there are some difficulties in sharing a space.

“It affects everything,” Woodard said. “We have no office space. On the positive side, we have the space to use at all. It would take a very long time and tens of millions of dollars to acquire our own building.”

Sharing a building has enabled PBC to serve the community and allocate resources to other areas like community partnerships, salaries and outreach, Woodward said.

Some congregational leaders need to take the summers off for financial reasons. In contrast, PBC can keep their pastor employed year-round, Woodward said.

However, PBC still has limited infrastructure and limited authority to use that infrastructure. These unconventional circumstances push the congregation to be resourceful.

Rather than holding Bible studies in a dedicated lounge or a rec room, PBC members host multiple small groups from the Bronx all the way down to Long Island City. While less convenient, the relationships formed at these gatherings are sincere and long-lasting.

Giselle [last name omitted for privacy], a member of PBC, commutes two hours to each Sunday via Metro North.

“I grew up in the suburbs and attended a church with a lot of space and facilities,” Giselle said. “We relied heavily on those church facilities, but here we rely on people.”

To some extent, every congregation relies on people and fellowship, such as church socials, volunteering, retreats and home Bible studies. Many rural and suburban churches have the luxury of choosing between one of multiple options.

At city church plants like PBC, however, there are not multiple options to pick from, Woodward said. People need to create their own options. A congregant opening their home might be the only form of fellowship for congregations who lack a permanent space.

Photo by Lifestyle Visuals for iStockPhotos

Church planting in New York City is hard. However, thanks to the generosity of Rock Church and the resourcefulness of Providence Baptist Church, a congregation that would never have been possible is now flourishing. No amount of square footage is necessary to observe the Holy Spirit, nor the fruit of God’s work.