Eugene Cho

what to do with church buildings

here and there, i get listings of churches forwarded to my inbox from friends who are real estate agents.  churches that were once thriving but left with very few choices.  most will sell off their properties and within a year or two, you’ll see condos, retail buildings, office spaces, and my worst fear – another starbucks store.  the sad part is that the while the Kingdom’s future is not contingent on that property, that ‘physical’ space will never return to be used for the Kingdom.

and the reality is that this is a very common story.  a scenario happening all around the country – especially in urban location.  this morning, i read about the long drama surrounding the building of seattle first united methodist church.   after what seems to be at least couple years of conversations, discussions, and drama, a decision has been made to preserve the actual sanctuary but demolish the church annex.  eventually, a 40 story tower will be built to add to the already very busy seattle downtown landscape.

After decades of uncertainty, the sanctuary at First United Methodist Church will be saved, its buyer said today.  More than 250 people attended a Sunday church meeting, when members unanimously approved a deal to sell the property at 811 Fifth Ave., said Kevin Daniels, president of Nitze-Stagen & Co., a developer of commercial properties with historical value…

Nitze-Stagen plans to demolish the church annex south of the sanctuary — but keep the sanctuary — and erect a 40-story tower with about 670,000 square feet, Daniels said…

The congregation put its downtown property up for sale because the costs of repairing and maintaining the sanctuary consumed cash it needs to support its ministry to the homeless. Church members also say the sanctuary is too large for their needs. [read full article]

according to this article, the church [likely the funds distributed between the church and UMC denomonination] will be paid $24million dollars by developers.

i’m not entirely sure how i feel about the whole situation.  i’m saddened that this church got to a point where they were simply unable to sustain their ministry and maintain their properties.  i’m quasi-ok about the church sanctuary being maintained as a means to honor the church and appease the preservationists since this was a “historical building.”  i’m more curious how the funds will be used.

the reality is there are many urban [especially downtown] churches that are simply no longer able to have a vibrant and engaging ministry presence.  it’s usually not just the church and its ministry; there’s simply too many variables to consider the reasons for the struggles of urban churches.  many of these churches also have many years of history.  my vote is to sell them off for as much money as possible and redistribute those funds for the purpose of churchplanting [especially urban churchplants], local community development projects, and global missions.  the other option: give the properties to another church that may be a more effective steward of the facilities.

Filed under: church, churchplanting, emerging church, seattle

7 Responses

  1. ethanmorris says:

    Couldn’t agree more bro.

    Where is the missional heart that would raise up those who would use God’s resources for His glory? In an urban setting there is endless opportunity to employ these buildings for Kingdom use.

    The problem I have typically seen is the lack of vision more than a lack of resources when it comes to the urban church abandoning their properties. We need a generation that is willing to charge into the abandoned church (not just buildings) in our cities and take the gospel to the least of these.

  2. derek says:

    Release the funds for the kingdom.

  3. Don says:

    Great post Eugene. For years I’ve been wrestling with the notion of sacred space. Being incarnational is part of the gospel and that entail occupying and using (redeeming?) space. You do it well at “Q”. In the Santa Barbara community there are a number of space-less churches that have tried to maintain a long-term ministry by renting/leasing. The adventure fades as they face so much transportation and set-up time eating into being and doing gospel. Is God pushing the church to occupy smaller, more financially viable (responsible) spaces so that we can be built into redemptive communities and not consuming crowds?

  4. Rex Hamilton says:

    Good thoughts Eugene! Not sure if you were aware that the recent issue of Seattle Metropolitan Magazine has an extensive article on urban churches facing this decision of selling. It also looks at City Church based here in the Eastside where I minister and their recent take over of an old church and why this super-charasmatic evangelical church is succeeding in an area that you really wouldn’t think it should. Keep up the good work…

  5. Good thoughts indeed.
    The more I look at church and nonprofit budgets, the more I observe that personnel and building costs eat up the majority of most budgets. What creative ways are there for us to minimize these costs so as to “release more funds for the kingdom” as Derek said? Can we share buildings, or staff? Can tentmaking become a more popular model for pastors to follow?

  6. e cho says:

    all good thoughts and ideas.
    i really think that pastors and churches need to take some classes on creative usage of spaces. churches CAN’T just be used on Sundays or even two days/week. Churches, in my opinion, CAN’T assume that they can only depend on the giving of their churchgoers. The burden is too heavy and too many variables.
    so, in that end, i resonate with Ethan’s comments about ‘vision’ or the lack of vision with many of our urban churches with many many years of history. the context and world around us has changed and we simply can’t afford to DO church AS IS.

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