Building Discernment Process
As we weigh and consider all that God may have for us in this season, we want to invite you into this process of prayer and discernment with us.
If you’re interested in learning more about this process, we encourage you to listen to the full teaching from our series Future Church.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are we really buying a building?
God willing, yes! This has been a deep desire for us – long before we ever even became a church. We believe having a rooted place for our church to gather, worship, serve, and show hospitality is integral to faithful ministry in this city.
Why would we buy a building when it has been so good to meet at Everett Middle School?
When the pandemic began, we could no longer meet at Everett. This exposed a huge flaw in considering the school to be our future and permanent home; it is too tenuous a meeting location. We do not make the decisions at Everett, and the school has the ability to inform us at any time that meeting there is no longer an option.
We have enjoyed a very favorable and wonderful relationship with Everett and the staff of the school – special thanks to Ruben! – but we don’t know if that will always be the case. Because of this, we have looked, for a very long time, at every church building that has been put on the market, and some that have not, for the last 11 years. But our desire for a church building in San Francisco goes much further and deeper than simply the unstable situation at Everett.
Why do we need to buy a building at all?
Rootedness, sacred space, and rethinking the church building in a city are all the bigger reasons we have been looking for a church building.
Rootedness: This has always been a core value of our church. In a culture of transience and impermanence, it has been our desire to root ourselves in San Francisco. We desire to grow tall, create shade, and bear fruit for the sake of our city. We explain this in more depth in the teaching, The Future of Our Church.
Sacred Space: There has been a trend for protestant churches to create buildings that have high function, but low transcendence; where buildings are about putting as many people as possible in a room, focusing on the stage and lights. Our hope has been to acquire a building that looks like a church. A church that does not just have permanence, but transcendence. We have hoped for a building that draws our eyes up, that feels like a sacred space, and that is not just open on Sundays for church service. We want people to have the opportunity to come throughout the week and sit still in prayer with God.
Rethinking the Church Building: When you walk around the city, you will notice many old church buildings that have been gutted to become office spaces, gyms, residences, or another sort of multi-use space – a shell of what they used to be. The perception, culturally, is that the church is a part of our city’s past, but not a part of it’s future. We feel a responsibility to rethink the church building by filling these spaces with the life and worship they were designed to hold.
We need these churches to be born-again with life and community engagement. They need to reflect sacred architecture and be woven into the life blood of the community. They need to serve the financially poor, as well as the spiritually poor.
These spaces need to be an embodiment of what the church is: a counterculture for the common good, showing who God is to the world. This is done through people actively engaging city life through work, education, raising families, and so on. We also have an opportunity to embody city engagement through a physical space, a physical address.
How much is the building, and how would we pay for it?
The building is on the corner of Valencia and 24th St. It was formerly Bethel Church, which was established in the 1920’s. Currently the building is owned by Northgate Christian Fellowship in Benicia, who wants to sell the building to us for $15 million. This purchase would include a lot more property than just the church building itself. (See below)
The current plan is to finance $10M from our bank, Cass Bank, whom we have had a relationship with for over a decade, and who specializes in church property financing. We also plan to raise the remaining funds, $5M, through a building initiative that we will be rolling out in the Fall of 2021.
How would this affect our finances, and how do we know we can afford it?
This will, of course, be a huge step of faith for our church, but we believe we can afford to pursue this building. We are in an excellent financial position because of the generosity and faithfulness of our community at Reality, and because of the wise financial stewardship of our team. We incorporated extra accountability in how we manage our finances by becoming accredited and certified members of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, which is the highest standard of church finance and operations.
And beginning in 2019, we chose to be annually reviewed by an independent Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), which is the national standard governed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). A review is the second highest level of audit services. For 2020, we are undergoing the highest level of audit, which will be completed in June. All this to say, we have been financially surveyed, and exist as a church who values high financial accountability.
In general, churches looking to make property purchases can afford three times their annual budget – which is the standard we currently meet. We always knew that a church our size would need a larger building and, being a city-centered church, we knew this would not be cheap. And over the last few years, we have averaged a $5M+ budget – a testimony to the generosity of our church. Since 2010, we have invested over $5M supporting local missionaries, ministry partners, and church plants, all while diligently saving over $1M for a time such as this. Additionally, we are thankful that we have cultivated such a healthy financial situation that our bank felt confident in approving a loan for us immediately.
What would this mean for the other spaces we have been renting as a church?
A building purchase would require us to exit our current lease agreements with Everett Middle School, Swedish American Hall, and our Bryant St. headquarters. Though there would be a bit of sadness leaving these spaces we have called home, not paying rent would make affording the building even more possible.
Why would we spend such a significant amount of money on a building when we could, instead, continue renting, and use the money for other worthwhile purposes?
We know that real estate in San Francisco is not cheap, but we are a church that is uniquely blessed with the financial resources to make a building purchase. We believe the funds spent buying a building, rather than continuing to rent at high prices, would be a much better example of good stewardship of our church’s generosity.
Our church has been and will continue to support local renewal efforts. Portions of our budget designated for Justice & Outreach and Benevolence funding will remain. Additionally, having a building would enable us to support for our community in even more tangible ways.
What types of ministry do we envision doing from this building, and how will this serve our renewal efforts?
Having a large, consistent space opens up lots of possibilities for ministry to our congregation and service to our community. Some events may look familiar – Sunday worship services, leadership meetings, and counseling appointments with staff – but others may be ministries we have only previously dreamed of.
- We plan to keep, and expand, a food bank that currently operates out of the building as a ministry to our neighbors.
- We want to make the church open throughout the week for those who need a space to come and sit quietly before God, light a candle to pray, or are in need of pastoral prayer and guidance.
- We hope to connect a monastic community to our church building, which would be open for daily, guided prayer.
- We desire to start a Center for Christian Thought & Practice, a place for those who are curious about the way of Jesus, taught through core teachings and practices. These classes will be open to the public and include lectures and practicums.
- We could be a church that hosts community events, recovery meetings, after-school programs, a preschool, prayer chapel hours, meals for our unhoused neighbors, and much more!
There are so many possibilities for how we can serve and love our neighbors through a building in the center of the Mission. We hope that those in our congregation also create their own vision of how to serve our community from a place of rootedness.
These are not finalized plans for ministry, by any means. However, there are infinite new options to explore. With a building, we have the opportunity dream and be creative in how to serve our congregation and the community at large in ways we have not been able to before.
How will this decision be made?
Over the next 40 days, we are in a three-part discernment process.
1. Church Discernment
As we begin this process of discernment, one thing we are not asking is whether we will buy a building or not. It has long been a part of our vision to buy a building in San Francisco. The discernment will be whether this is the building we are meant to buy, and if this is the time.
In order to create space to pray and ask God for His wisdom, we will be hosting open house and prayer meetings in the Bethel building. Additionally, our Elders and staff will take time to listen to what God is speaking to you, our church community, and other things you wish to process with us. Taking all of this into consideration, our Elders and an expanded discernment team will collect our church’s input and make a decision.
This expanded discernment team includes: Lija Farnham, Debbie McCoy, Naomi Lau, and Suzanne Jenkins – all amazing and faithful leaders in our church community.
2. Building Due Diligence
We have already begun a phase known as 40 days of due diligence. This is a time to examine all of the details of the building itself – performing inspections, gathering historical disclosures, etc. – as well as confirm or cancel our intention to move forward with the purchase.
3. Financial Planning
If we decide to move forward with the purchase, our board, Elders, and discernment team will collaborate on a solid financial plan. Some of the financing possibilities are outlined above in our FAQ.
This group will determine the most prudent and responsible way forward; one that also prioritizes stewarding our church funds for God’s Kingdom purposes. Additionally, this group will help ensure the highest integrity of financial practices for a non-profit like ours.
Why do we want to buy a building now?
We believe God has been preparing us, both financially and spiritually, for a long time to be ready for a building. We did not know what that building might look like, but we had a lot of ideas about what it could be.
It is clear that many small moments had to come together to make this purchase a possibility, and we feel that the Lord may be opening this door for us now.
How can I get involved?
First and foremost, we are asking you to pray and discern with us. Pray together with your families, friends, and Community Groups. Please pray for wisdom, timing, and confirmation if this building purchase is the will of God for our church.
Here is what we are not saying: we are not saying that we are buying the Bethel/Northgate building. We are saying that we are dreaming about buying the building, and we are asking you to be a part of that process and dream with us.
Since we will all be paying for this building, we want everyone to be making this decision together. We pray that it is unanimous, whether that means we will or will not be purchasing the building. However, we understand that we are a large church with a lot of different opinions. So we are asking you to discern with us whether this is a moment like the early church in Acts, where the leaders of the church said, “it seemed good to us and to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 15:28).
Share Your Response
We invite you to join us in prayer and discernment. We have set up the below form as a way for you to share prayers, affirmations, encouragements, words and visions of prophecy, or any cautions you may sense. We look forward to hearing what the Lord is speaking to our community during this time!
Join a Prayer Night
We will be hosting a series of prayer and worship nights for members of our community to physically walk through the building and pray over this decision. You can find more details and registration about upcoming prayer nights at the link below.
Give to Building Fund
As you pray and discern with us, we want to invite you to consider contributing to our Building Fund. We believe, if it is the Lord’s will, that He will provide the means for us to purchase this building, and we want to invite you to partner with us.
Features & Amenities
Originated in 1920 [856 Capp St.]
Original Site Built in 1952
Main Sanctuary Completed in 1995
Muni & Bart Access
5 Total Lots [Including Parking Lot & Commercial Unit]
51,198 total sqft of Space
18,000 sqft Auditorium
700 Seat Auditorium w/ Balcony
8,300 sqft Courtyard Garden Terrace
5,000 sqft Fellowship Hall
48 Parking Spots
9 Multi-use Classrooms