Last week I posed the question of whether a church should sell their building in order to pursue a more sustainable ministry model. If you still think selling your building might be the right thing to do, the next question I am sometimes asked is: CAN you sell it?
First, find out who owns your church building. Read your church’s bylaws. If you are Methodist or Presbyterian, you may “hold the building in trust for the wider church”. In other words, you don’t actually own it but the denomination may work with you on selling it and using the proceeds of the sale in a new way. These denominational bodies will usually not allow you to sell property and use the proceeds for operating expenses. But they might allow the funds to be used for the purchase of a new building, support of a community mission, or a new church plant.
In congregational type denominations like the UCC, the congregation or its trustees probably hold the deed to your property, and you can sell it by a vote of the congregation. This action does not mean you are dissolving your church. You can still be a church without a building. But the proceeds of the sale must remain in the possession of a non-profit entity, so you can’t just spend the money on candy (or beer, like they did in this story).
You should also work with a lawyer on title issues. Sometimes the land a church was built on has deed restrictions attached to it, or reverts back to a previous owner if the property ceases to be used by a church. And don’t forget to check on how your property is zoned. If the buyer is not a church, the zoning may need to be changed and sometimes that irks the neighbors.
Some churches have been known to “sell” their buildings for $1 to another church or non-profit. Sometimes an auction is held. Others sell their buildings at market rates and disperse the proceeds to mission projects they are passionate about. Still others give the money or the building to their denominational bodies to be used by the wider church.
Sometimes, entire church buildings are moved to new locations by people who want to preserve them as historic buildings. In other cases, they are dilapidated and need to be demolished.
Here’s an explanation of how United Methodists, in their connectional system, hold church properties in trust.
Here is a forum page (written in realtor language) with some advice for realtors about how to estimate the value of a church building.
And here’s a story about how a Canadian church used the proceeds of its building when it was sold.
Whatever your situation, ask God’s opinion first. And don’t trust me or anyone else you read on the web for advice on legal and property matters. Most denominational bodies can help you find the kind of professional advice you need. And every state has its own property laws, so do your research!