The Challenge of Portable Church

Portable Church "Magic"

These days, it’s not uncommon to find a church meeting in a high school, movie theater, or a hotel conference room nearby. It almost seems like magic, the way a room is transformed every week, seamlessly... Well, truthfully, it’s not magic and it's hardly seamless. It’s hard work. The staff and volunteers involved in portable church setup know the blood, sweat, and tears required to make a church service happen in an uncharacteristic location. I believe the portable church method works. I love how it creates opportunities to share the love of Jesus with people in places that aren’t traditionally associated with His love and Presence. But I know there are some major and consistent roadblocks that a lot of portable churches face. So, I’m not here to tell you how to get better exposure, or how to do better job with lighting, or how to pipe and drape more efficiently. I want to talk about leading your attitude well in the face of problems that we cannot control or prevent–technical difficulties. 

Technical Difficulties

All of us involved in portable church work very hard to manage our time well. Down to the very hour, minute, and second, time is as precious as gold. So when a cable goes bad and you have to spend 15 minutes chasing and replacing it, you feel the weight of losing that time. Technical difficulties are the dreaded companions of portable church setup. Your pipe and drape was put away in a way that takes longer to set it up properly and sets you back 30 minutes. Those trendy new succulents you bought for your youth room have been left at your church offices and you NEED them. So, you spend 25 minutes driving back and forth to retrieve them because you really believe they'll "change the atmosphere." Time moves quickly in the face of a problem. And technical difficulties often happen at the most unexpected times. We can’t plan for or prevent the random mistakes or technical failures that are totally out of our control. The one thing we can control is our attitude.

Achieving Your Goal

I’ve had many years and known many leaders involved in the portable churches. These people are some of the most well prepared, thought out, and creative leaders I know. Nonetheless, I’ve witnessed them succumb to tension caused by an unexpected technical fluke. They lose it. They emotionally crumble. They accidentally lash out at their team and volunteers. They completely shut down. Because of the way they respond, the chaos that could have been contained starts causing emotional damage to everyone around. You might be thinking, “Come on, Drew. We’re all human, is it really so bad to be frustrated? It’s a natural response.” I would agree. But if frustration and anger become habitual, you will create a culture that fears and dreads the entire setup and serving process at your portable church. I must, as a leader, maintain composure so that my team can accomplish what we set out to do: facilitate an engaging, Spirit-led, environment for our church family.

What You Can Control

After many stressful situations, I’ve learned to manage my emotions on this roller coaster we call portable church. I love these two verses from Proverbs:

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.—Proverbs 14:29
Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.—Proverbs 16:32  

True control means surrender, surrender to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit empowers us to rest in His peace, regardless of our circumstances. We must remember that our attitude and actions influence everyone around us. The greatest thing we can offer our team during setup is a stable attitude no matter what happens. I know when I have stressed out due to a setback it negatively affected my whole team. Unfortunately in not controlling my emotions and actions, I sent the volunteers walking on eggshells for the rest of the day. I’ve now learned to stay composed and not give the brunt of my frustration to my volunteers. Some people might say, “Well, that’s fake and unauthentic.” I would totally disagree. My job is to lead this team to our goal week in and week out. If I don’t lead with joy, then the ends don't justify the means. After service is over, I usually have lunch with the team. That’s the place I acknowledge how crazy having the lights going out mid-song was. I’ll try to make light of it. I want them to know what they can expect from me each week. I don’t want them to be on edge every time something goes wrong. Honestly, with how often technical difficulties arise, it would be exhausting for everyone to respond that way. No matter what, the Word of God will be preached through song and through teaching. We can have fun during setup. A leader's attitude can do so much more for building a healthy culture than a "perfect" setup. You may not be able to prevent setbacks as you setup for portable church, but you can control how you respond to them.


Drew Eales is the worship leader for our Calvary Chapel Hollywood Campus, setup weekly in a theatre in the heart of downtown Hollywood. Drew is a musician, songwriter, and leader in our community. Tweet @DrewEales.