Innovative Ideas to Build Church Revenue and Community
In today’s world of decreasing church attendance, changing parish demographics, and difficult economic times, it is essential that all of us optimize the stewardship of the resources with which we are blessed. At St. David’s, Austin, our leadership has chosen to proactively explore opportunities to further our mission through maximizing all of our resources including our physical facilities. Located in the heart of Austin since 1854, St. David’s has seen significant growth and increased vitality of our downtown in recent years. Due to this, St. David’s is perfectly situated to explore new ideas for building community and increasing revenue. With a membership of over 2,200 and an annual budget of just over $2.5 million, we continue to challenge the old norms about the roles of church and business. We have found new ways to lead our congregation and grow, spiritually and numerically, in mission in the community and to increase our financial stability.
Thinking-outside-the-box has long been routine for St. David’s. Since 1959 volunteers have been running Next-to-New, a consignment shop that is housed in its own building in North Austin. What started as an outreach ministry has grown into a successful, well-known Austin business through marketing efforts and word-of-mouth. Annually, Next-to-New contributes over $100,000 to local charities and to the preservation of St. David’s Historic Church. In addition to the economic impact the proceeds have on the community, it also offers a valuable service to customers and consignors. By providing affordable clothing, furniture, and appliances, the shop is filled daily with shoppers. In addition, the store provides work training and service opportunities to over 100 volunteers who keep the merchandise flowing six days a week and offers the opportunity for Community Service credit for numerous people.
St. David’s sits on an entire city block in the middle of downtown Austin. As the town continued to grow around the Church, leaders knew that parking capacity would have to be increased to accommodate growth in our programs and population. In 1985, St. David’s began building a 5-level parking garage, and then expanded it to eight floors ten years later.
The 545-car garage is free for parishioners and visitors to the church. For others, daily or monthly rates are paid while they work nearby or head downtown for an evening out. Annually, the garage has revenues of more than one million dollars. In 2007, the garage management contract was terminated, and the church automated the gates. This further increased the profits available for church ministries.
In 2004, Sprint contacted the church and asked if it could put a cell phone tower on top of the garage. Geographically, it was just the right place. That placement generates over one thousand dollars each month in additional rent. This year, four electric vehicle charging stations were added, increasing community awareness of the garage as well as making a statement about the church’s commitment to the environment.
Coffee and Gift Shop
In 1953, St. David’s opened a retail space inside the church building. Originally functioning as a Christian bookstore, the shop has transformed over the years to a coffee and gift shop that, during the week, caters to downtown employees looking for a morning latte or quick lunch. While the shop has failed to remain profitable as it transitions from book sales to more of a food and beverage orientation, the Vestry has supported its existence because it serves so well as a gathering space for the parish and is effective in bringing new people into the building each day. It currently operates 6 days a week, and continues to grow in popularity.
In 1997, St. David’s established a Day School that enrolls 130 pre-school age children each year. The Day School has its own board which operates independently of the church, but the school utilizes classroom space that was originally only used on Sunday mornings. This increasing utilization of the church is not only good stewardship of the resource, but provides income to the church budget. The Day School is open to parishioner and non-parishioner families, and almost 40% of the school families become members of the church, serving as one of the most effective evangelism ministries at St. David’s.
St. David’s operates a full time commercial kitchen with three professionally trained chefs. The kitchen stays busy providing Sunday breakfasts to parishioners, Tuesday and Wednesday night dinners, lunches for the local Rotary Club, and on Thursdays, a hot lunch offered to the public for $8. Each week an average 400 meals are prepared from this facility. Many are served to downtown workers who visit the church for the first time because of the food offerings. Through an E-menu that is sent to 650 subscribers each week, community awareness is maintained and increased. This ministry of hospitality furthers the church’s mission financially, but more importantly it serves as an evangelism tool by bringing thousands of people into our facility and helping create loyal relationships with those around us.
Meeting/Venue Space Rental
As the St. David’s staff and downtown community have grown over the years, the Church has committed to a Ministry of Hospitality that operates much like a hotel banquet facility. St. David’s has several banquet halls that can be rented out for meetings, not to mention a professional kitchen for catering such events. The Church hosted over 300 events for non-profits and community organizations last year. These ranged from simple meetings, to music performances, to worship space for start-up faith communities. While we focus on making great food and lovely space available at a reasonable cost for non-profit entities, we also welcome for-profit entities believing that offering biblical hospitality may very well open the eyes of faith to those who enter our doors.
Giving with Social Media
Even in the traditional forms of revenue at the church, St. David’s tries to think outside the box. In an effort to make it easier for parishioners to pay their pledge, St. David’s has just begun printing a bar code on Sunday bulletins. While the church has not discontinued the passing of the plate, it has recognized that in today’s electronic society, debit and credit cards have all but replaced checkbooks and money clips. So for the parishioners who rely on their iPhones more than their wallets, St. David’s is providing a simple in-the-pew means of electronically contributing to the church. Now, the inspired parishioner can simply scan the bar code that connects them to the church’s “Give” page where an electronic contribution can be made. While this may seem crass and commercial to some, to our younger parishioners, it is more natural than writing a check.
In addition to its established enterprises, St. David’s continues to work to expand its horizons with new ventures. The church has an underutilized gymnasium that it plans to use as the basis for an activity center, offering classes and recreation to the 25,000 people living within a mile of the church. In addition, it is in conversation with the property owner of a nearby block about building a day care facility to serve downtown workers during the day and on a drop-in basis at night. Both concepts would complement existing operations, and would directly serve the church’s missions of evangelism and stewardship while providing funds and resources for overall church operations.
For more information, contact St. David’s Parish Administrator, Terry Nathan, at TerryN@StDave.org.
Jeanie Sablatura is the director of communications at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas and Terry Nathan is the parish administrator.
- Café Divine: http://stdave.org/site/about/cat/cafe_divine/
- Cell Tower Income 101: http://www.cell-phone-towers.com/Cell-Tower-Income.html; http://www.steelintheair.com/Get-a-Cell-Tower-on-your-Property.html
- Meeting/Venue Space Rental: http://stdave.org/site/about/cat/catering/
- Next–to-New Consignment Shop: http://www.next2new.org/
- Parking Garage: http://stdave.org/site/about/cat/garage/