The question is whether the congregation can raise enough funds to stay at the current location, 225 E. Exchange St. in Spring Lake, or whether it is more fiscally practical to buy or lease another site.
“We are unable to continue funding operations under current circumstances,” the board stated in the letter to its congregation. “It is clear this community cannot afford to maintain this building, manage the debt or meet payroll.”
church’s executive minister, Ian Lawton, said the C3 community will explore any and all options — including vacating the current location for more economical space.
“It’s a large building and it’s not particularly efficient,” said Lawton, who joined C3 — then called Christ Community Church — in 2004. “We spend more on utilities than we would like.”
Lawton said the board has not been actively seeking a new site, but that it may become a valid option.
“We’re looking at a range of scenarios that could play out,” Lawton said. “What’s clear is the inclusive, spiritual vision we started will continue. We’re looking at the best way to go forward.”
A decade ago, the church’s operating budget hovered around $2 million, according to Lawton. More recently, it’s been about $600,000.
“That gives an idea of the amount of cutting that’s happened,” he said.
Lawton wouldn’t divulge the amount of expenses, but said the congregation is out of cash reserves. He said he would discuss specifics with members at tonight’s meeting.
“We don’t have any reserves to play with,” Lawton continued. “There’s no denomination backing us or no head office that can support us in the short term. It’s just us and the people who gather here. We haven’t been able to make it on what we have because of utilities and other expenses.”
In the last two years, C3 sold some its properties — including the Little Red House adult foster care facility and The People Center. The proceeds helped in the interim, but Lawton said there is only enough money left to operate the current facility for a matter of weeks or months.
Lawton said when he came on board nearly seven years ago, he recognized almost immediately that the current facility could become a financial albatross.
“The whole time I’ve been here, the property has been too much to manage, in terms of finances,” he said. “We had to sell property along the way to maintain the space. It’s time to make big decisions like we need to make now.”
Lawton said contributions dipped shortly after his arrival when some members of then-Christ Community Church opted out of Lawton’s brand of “inclusive spirituality.”
“Some of the people looking for a more traditional church weren’t going to be interested in what I had to offer,” Lawton explained. “They left and the money left with them. Pretty much from the first year I was here it’s been in question. It’s coming to a head now. The (C3) community has to make a decision.”
After an initial meeting on Sunday, Lawton said some C3 members gave immediate donations totaling $17,000. He said the church staff has volunteered to clean the facility, saving about $3,000 per month.
“They opened up their checkbooks on the spot and that was very encouraging,” Lawton said. “That gives us a little time — but, if nothing else changes in the next couple of months, we’ll be looking at alternatives. It could be an influx of donations, an influx of volunteerism and ideas, or an overwhelming community decision to do something different.”
Lawton said last year’s decision to remove the cross and change the church’s name from Christ Community Church to C3Exchange had nothing to do with the current financial situation. He said last year’s numbers are very similar to 2011 revenues and expenditures.
“There’s going to have to be a different way of operating and different ways of using space,” Lawton said. “We’re open to all possibilities at this point.”
Lawton said he has no personal preference and will leave it up to the 400-plus membership to make a decision.
“The community is really thinking in a creative way,” he said. “Whether we’re in this building or not will be a financial decision, but we’ll carry on somewhere. ... This is definitely not the end.”
Lawton expressed confidence that the C3 community will remain active in the Tri-Cities area.
Should the C3Exchange community decide to relocate, current zoning allows for several options for the East Exchange Street property, which is zoned as public, according to Spring Lake Village Community Services Director Kathy Staton. She said the zoning district would allow for churches, public parks, government offices, public and private schools, libraries, museums, community centers, and offices.
“Somebody could put offices in that building, but we have an awful lot of vacant office space as it is,” Staton said.
Staton said the village’s future land use map also designates the site as public.
“We don’t anticipate it would become commercial at all,” she said. “If anything, it would probably go back to residential if it didn’t stay public.”