To Rent Out Space, or Not

Q. Our small Unitarian Universalist (UU) church is exploring the possibility of renting out space in our RE wing to a daycare or preschool to increase our yearly income. Have other UU churches done this, how did they begin, and what has their experience been?

A. John Levine of the First Unitarian Society of Ithaca, NY, notes that his congregation bought the building next door to the downtown church five years ago and rented the first floor to a Montessori nursery school. "It's worked out pretty well. We don't get as much rent as we would from a commercial tenant (if we could find one, which is iffy), but since the school is an appropriate nonprofit activity, the city has agreed to make the whole building tax-exempt and the savings on property tax make up the difference."

He adds a caveat: "Preschools can be financially fragile, so my main advice would be to plan ahead for what you'll do if the school comes to you and asks for an emergency rent concession, or just folds up and disappears."

Paul Funch of First Parish Church of Groton, MA, adds that the church coming to rely on the extra income is a problem. "Financial dependency is a very hard addiction to cure."

"The other negative is the continued feeling that the church is not 'ours' because we have to share it," he says. The financial benefits from the business relationship usually counter this, he says, and as long as the church doesn't have a lot of daytime activities of its own there won't be much conflict. But if that situation changes, he says, "watch out."

About the Author

  • Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

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