Should We Sell Our Church Building?

spring 2012 015I know some of you have a love/hate relationship with your church buildings.  Your church’s floors may have asbestos in them and the roof may leak and the sanctuary is not wheelchair accessible.  Maybe you are secretly hoping for a strategically placed tornado.

Or maybe you should SELL your building?  Wouldn’t that make life easier?

Well, yes and no.  Selling your building might provide you with a big wad of cash to move to a better building or start a creative house church ministry.  Some of the churches I’ve studied did things like that successfully.  But there are other factors to consider:

  • Do you have a better idea about where you should meet?  If you’re thinking “coffee house”, consider whether your congregation will ever be able to sing together again.  If you’re thinking “rented store front”, remember that the landlord might kick you out (this once happened to Solomon’s Porch).
  • Could your building be put to better use while you are still using it?  For instance, are there non-profit groups or another congregation who could share it with you for a reasonable rate?
  • Remember that you have more than a building.  You also have a location.  Why did God put you in your neighborhood in the first place?  What was/is your mission on that particular peice of holy ground?
  • Instead of selling it, could you give your building to another church who really needs it?
  • If you sell it to the first buyer who comes along, such as a CVS franchise, as in this story, will the community be losing a beloved landmark?

I’m generally pretty hard-nosed about not letting buildings get in the way of ministry.  But I also believe buildings have a function, and I am still on the fence  about the Church cashing out its physical presence in our communities. (Have you ever tried to find a House Church to attend?  I have.  Never found it.)  There is something about church buildings that civilizes our world.  They remind us that humanity is about pursuing more than self-protection, money, sports and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

And the fact is that, except in some juicy locations, many church buildings are not worth nearly as much in dollars as you may think.

It might be time to sell your building and move to a location that better suits your church’s mission.  But first, you may want to read this article about an Episcopal church in Connecticut, where the Diocese is viewing a former church building as an asset, and has invited interested parties into conversation about how it might be used for the benefit of its community.

And in this story from Seattle, another Diocese transferred responsibility for the maintenance of a church building to a sister church, which oversees use of the space for a variety of community non-profit groups.

Church buildings are like congregations: loaded with the power to save your soul or drive you crazy– maybe both on the same day.  Proceed with caution.

6 responses to “Should We Sell Our Church Building?

  1. In one of my previous churches, well before I arrived, they built a new church, selling the old building. It was made into apartments and not kept up well. It was on the main drag and the members had to pass it constantly. All of them wished they had burned the building down before selling the land. It was still an eyesore and brought many to tears. It takes a LOT of thought and vision to sell a church building.

  2. Good point, Wayne. Demolition is another option and sometimes a necessary one. I have interviewed one church that took this painful step not only to spare their own pain, but to spare the judicatory level from having to do it later.

  3. Michael Murray

    Thank you for raising this issue and beginning to identify possible options going forward. A great many sessions and congregations need, it seems to me, to be having this conversation. Knowing that there are numerous options for “a way forward” might provide the stimulus and courage to raise the issue.

  4. Thanks for writing, Michael. That is the whole premise of my work and there are already a lot of creative churches out there trying new things that the rest of us can learn from. But unless we start those scary conversations, nothing new can happen.

  5. The congregation I was serving had dwindled to eight members. We left our building in December and started worshiping at a neighboring church because we couldn’t afford to pay the cost of heating that large space. We investigated listing the building for sale through a real estate agent and were told that it could take a very long time to sell and would probably not bring in very much money. We were planning to have an auction to dispose of the contents, and we decided to include the real estate in the auction. It’s in a very small town, on a residential street, needed a new roof, and was not accessible. Someone did buy it for $30,000 at the auction, which was held during Holy Week. We have no idea what they’re going to do with it.

    Not long after that, the congregation, which had talked about using the resources from the auction to continue on as a congregation without a building, decided to close.

    I like the possibilities in being a congregation without a building, and I underestimated how emotionally difficult that would be for the members.

  6. Thanks for your story, Jeanny. On one level we can be matter-of-fact about the possibility of selling a building, but on another level, it is for many people like the death of a loved one. Some people grew up attaching their faith to a place, just as we hold meaning in our birth places. Maybe in the future, Christians will root ourselves in different ways, like the Jews in exile did.

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