From luxury stays to “champing” in the sanctuary, churches adopt Airbnb models of the era of the pandemic


(RNS) – After the death of their founding pastor a few years ago, membership in the Cullen Baptist Missionary Church in Houston, Texas, took a plunge.

With less income from pledges and the expenses of maintaining the church, which would take up almost a block, “we had more space than we knew what to do with and didn’t have the people. or the resources to pay for it, “said current pastor Andre Jones.

That’s when the Cullen MBC turned to Church Space, a similar platform to Airbnb that allows places of worship to rent their shrines, communion rooms and kitchens to other congregations and organizations. for up to $ 30,000 per year.

“Without Church Space, I don’t know if we would still be here,” Jones said. “These funds and resources that have arrived have saved lives. “

Church space logo. Courtesy Image

Since COVID-19 hit in March 2020, many churches have found themselves in Cullen MBC’s position. In the face of declining incomes and empty buildings, churches have looked for ways to make unused space a virtue.

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Some have rented offices and classrooms for those who work and learn at a distance. Others have hosted “ghost kitchens” that allow restaurants without a storefront to prepare food for delivery services like Door Dash or Uber Eats. During the pandemic, Church Space grew from 45 tenants 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.

But for churches in the US and UK, offering a variety of rentals to local tourists, professional chefs, or exhausted frontline workers has done a definite good. eking by or close completely.

Edwards and his co-founder, Emmanuel Brown, launched Church Space in Houston in 2019. Churches that participated in the Church Space pilot program earned an average of $ 23,000 to $ 38,000 in their first year, according to Edwards. .

Church Space co-founder and CEO Day Edwards.  Courtesy photo

Church Space co-founder and CEO Day Edwards. Courtesy photo

Church Space currently has around 150 hospitality sites across the United States, but tends to be concentrated in 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 tenants who share their values.

“We truly believe that when churches earn more, they can do more, not only in their congregation but also in their community,” said Edwards.

The Church Space model allows participating churches to maintain their tax-exempt status, although the co-founders declined to share further details. “It’s something that sets Church Space apart from other competitors,” said Edwards.

In the UK, another Airbnb-type service operated from Yorkshire, England, provides spiritual respite.

Jasper and I were exhausted in parish ministry, ”said Tina Hodges, who owns All Hallows, a former Anglican church, with her husband. “We both spent 20 years ordained Anglican priests in the Church of England… I met so many people who needed a retreat and recognized the need for a sacred space.

As an ‘eagle retreat’, the former All Hallows, which sits on land Christians have worshiped since the 6th century, features a renovated interior that highlights the building’s stained glass windows, spiral staircase and the barrel ceiling. It also includes updates like flat-screen TVs and a hot tub.

For an additional fee, the couple offer services such as spiritual guidance and marriage counseling. They also offer scholarships to those who cannot afford the stay, and according to the website, they “particularly welcome those who have been bereaved, bruised or exhausted in life.”

The panoply of services in the sacred space seems perfectly adapted to the pandemic. “I can’t even tell you how many vacations we’ve given away for free this year,” Hodges said. “We had a lot more people who needed space or people to talk to… a lot of people who are key workers, including ministers, who just collapsed.”

Hodges said taking the time to enjoy the secluded and scenic Yorkshire valleys or soak up the ancient beauty of the church has brought healing to many guests.

“There are places where we have sacred ground,” Hodges said. “And this is one of them.”

Champing at Saint Cuthbert Church in Holme Lacy, Herefordshire, England.  Photo by Joseph Casey

Champing at Saint Cuthbert Church in Holme Lacy, Herefordshire, England. Photo by Joseph Casey

There are others: the UK offers those who don’t mind taking it hard the chance to visit churches. An organization called the Churches Conservation Trust offers an experience called ‘Champing’ or church camping – spending the night in a historic sanctuary.

From April to October, champers can spend the night huddled on cots in church shrines for a small fee. (Dogs stay free.)

Lest the champeurs feel guilty dozing under the arched arches of a 17th-century country church, the proceeds are spent on restoring churches and creating jobs in the communities where the churches are located.

“A lot of times the churches themselves don’t have an immediate source of income,” said Guy Foreman, CEO of the Churches Conservation Trust. “Champing is one of a series of opportunities that historic churches can use to generate income that helps support their upkeep.”

Foreman said that although participation has dropped in 2020, the current season is “the best we’ve ever had.” Foreman attributed the popularity to British citizens looking for a creative vacation.

The Russell Lobby, part of the Mission Hotels in Nashville.  Courtesy photo

The Russell Lobby, part of the Mission Hotels in Nashville. Courtesy photo

A church-based charitable approach to the holidays is also the idea behind Nashville-based Mission Hotels. The five-year-old firm’s three renovated churches no longer host weekly worship and instead welcome guests in beds fashioned with pew headboards.

The Mission Hotels model is similar to traditional Airbnbs, except that most of the profits go to local charities.

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Micah Lacher, owner of Mission Hotels, is a person of faith who sees hotels as a means of continuing the mission of the original churches.

“We provide a refuge and a home for our guests on every stay,” said Lacher. “We flow into the community and creatively respond to the needs of those who are underserved. These churches did just the same when they were in the spaces.

Lacher estimates that Mission Hotel 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.

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