Last year, a woman who attends our church is in a meeting of church school teachers. In casual conversation, she mentions that her husband - who does not attend church - loves basketball and had once mused about renting our gym once in a while for a casual basketball game.
We took what she said very seriously. And we told her, "please tell your husband that no, he may not rent the gym. He may, however, use it at no charge if we can announce it as a church-sponsored pickup game." He jumped on it. We settled on Thursday nights, as long as we don't have something else scheduled for the gym. We announced it.
The first night, there were three people. The organizer and two of his friends. It was several weeks before there were enough people for a game. But word spread. It's Thursday night. I just took a walk down there, and they had so many people that they are playing two simultaneous 5-on-5 half-court games, so 20 people can be on the court at once.
Is it helpful to the church? Well, only six of the twenty-three people playing tonight are members. The rest are friends of theirs. Will they come to church? Who knows - but now they know we're here, and they're probably telling friends about the good time they have at our facility. And having a regular basketball game on the church calendar has to be positive for our image
What are the lessons here? One: listen carefully for expressed needs and respond to them. That instigating comment was not a formal request; it was a casual mention that could have been dropped. Two: think about how any unused space might be used to host an activity that just needs space to get going. Three: stick with it for longer than a week or two. Four: don't think in terms of an income opportunity, think in terms of an outreach opportunity. The ideal way to use your space is using it to start the process of turning strangers into worshipers. (And you can remind your bean counter that this also produces revenue!) In this case, it's turning strangers into friends. We'll trust the Spirit to take it from there.
Do you have room - especially gyms, which are in short supply - that's just waiting to be connected to people who need the space? Keep your ears open for the connection.