Securing a meeting location: Casting a wide net

One of the things I felt least ready for when planting City Church is how to find and secure a Sunday meeting location. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what I was looking for—I felt good about that part. It was that I didn’t know where or how to look. Other than the very impressive skill of Googling “event space Knoxville,” I was all out of ideas.

I was also woefully underprepared for the amount of persistence finding a location would take. In my mind, Sunday mornings weren’t a very popular time for business conferences or weddings, so it seemed like most any venue would be happy to take our money in exchange for that time slot. Boy, was I wrong. I was a little surprised by how many places wouldn’t return phone calls or emails, and how many did but still didn’t want a church to meet there at all.

We ended up finding a beautiful old railroad freight depot in the heart of our city, but not without some frustration. Through the process I learned a few pointers for the next time around:

  • Determine an area of focus. Most of us have an an idea of the part of town we’d like our Sunday venue to be in. It may even help to plot some boundary lines out on a map that you don’t want to go outside of. Then, once you start looking at venues, you can plot them out within your boundary lines using a tool like Google’s Map Maker tool.
  • Social media is your friend. Something I learned is that a lot of the best venues aren’t going to show up on a standard Google search. The way we eventually found out about our venue was because I was following a city of Knoxville Twitter account, and saw them retweet someone else’s post with a photo of the venue. The venue was new at the time and hadn’t come up on any searches I had done. Follow as many city-based accounts as you can on social media, because they may post about up-and-coming spots that wouldn’t otherwise be on your radar.
  • Go on foot. As old-school as this might seem, walking around your area of focus can turn up unexpected results. By going on foot, you look a little closer at some spots you might otherwise drive right past. You might stumble upon an empty building or storefront that could become a Sunday home with just a little bit of TLC. After we found our venue via Twitter, I realized it was the same spot I had walked by several times and thought to myself “I wonder if you can rent that space.” We had just never looked into it.
  • Ask for referrals. If you’ve done fundraising, you know one of the best ways to widen your reach is to ask each person you meet with for referrals. The same thing sometimes works with meeting locations. If one venue doesn’t work out, ask the person showing you the venue if they know of any other spaces you should look into. Usually, they’re pretty dialed into other similar venues in the city. At one point I talked to a local museum that didn’t work out for us, but the event coordinator there referred me to a handful of other venues, some of which I hadn’t even heard of yet.

Lastly, don’t be discouraged if the first few (or fifteen) venues you look into don’t work out. If you start looking early and look with persistence, you’ll have plenty of time to find a great home for your people. Keep after it. When it comes to meeting locations, sometimes the best way to catch one fish is to cast a really wide net.

Published November 20, 2017