For many decades, a pattern of success was repeated as new churches flourished in Galveston County. Each would begin in the future pastor’s home, then transition to a motel, school or theater. Ultimately, within a few years, the growing group would buy land and build a basic structure that might eventually extend to a complete campus.
Examples of this paradigm include two of our north county megachurches, The Harbor and Clear Creek Community Church.
But higher and higher real estate prices have made it all but impossible for more recent church startups to secure land and build. That leaves two options: Acquire the property of an older church that has closed or to adapt the radically new life as an essentially mobile church.
James Brockway, a commercial Realtor with Brockway Realty, specializes in church properties in League City. He underlined the problem that growth has produced for small congregations that would like to build here.
“On a building specifically designed for a church, the valuing based on cost per square foot is typical,” he said. “The price per square foot can vary dramatically, from say, $125 to $200 per square foot based on location, the quality of construction and other factors.”
Even the smallest churches generally need several thousand square feet — more if they are doing Sunday school and youth programs, so the buy-in cost for, say a 2,500 square foot building might run at least $300,000. But that cost doesn’t include the land or parking space.
The bottom line: a minimal church structure designed to meet city codes is almost certain to run well over $1 million which is well out of the reach of many new and smaller congregations.
That leaves those two alternatives: buy an existing church property from an assembly that has closed or accept continuing indefinitely in a rented or leased facility.
Since few if any closed church campuses are currently listed for sale in Galveston County, we’re likely to see more and more churches setting up in schools, community centers, theaters and even jumping gyms each week and remaining there for extended periods.
Outfits like Church on Wheels are set up to address just these peripatetic churches by providing turnkey trailers filled with absolutely everything a church needs — besides members and guests.
“There are no real rules or guidelines in our Mobile Church system,” said Mike Gardner, who does marketing for Church on Wheels. “We look at them as custom homes, as varied as the people that will inhabit them. We provide everything from diapers to $100,000 digital sound boards. We have complete packages on our website that cover all aspects including a trailer to store all equipment in from $18,000 to one-quarter million dollars.”
Of course, it takes a bit more commitment to reconstitute a church from its wheeled container each Sunday than it does just to walk into a brick and mortar one. Gardner said that the record for a practiced setup team runs under 9 minutes from the time the trailer door is open until the church is ready for the first chord from the praise band. Still, in weekly practice, most churches here take from 30 minutes to an hour to duplicate that expert track record.
Gardner also advised against trying to hide your goods in an unmarked trailer. Putting the church’s name and logos on it instead offered a benefit beyond publicity and some surprising safety.
“Largely thieves are looking for unmarked construction-type trailers,” he said. “There isn’t a huge resale black market for children’s ministry equipment, and live-sound audio equipment. We have never had a trailer that has been properly church branded (not plain white) stolen, to our knowledge.”
Lastly, Gardener added that helping new congregations get off the ground is the best part of his job, even though putting together all the disparate items a modern, media-savvy church needs can’t be easy.
“It’s getting to work with amazing people,” he said. “We are blessed to see the birth, and then the infancy of a new church. It is an amazing time, and an incredible process. I consider myself incredibly blessed to have been led to this profession.”
Next week in Our Faith: What is it like to pastor as a couple?