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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As I soaked in this breathtaking sunrise this morning above the clouds, I felt compelled to pray for so my places in America and around the world that are experiencing such pain, heartache, injustice, and violence. At times, it feels so overwhelming but in prayer, I was reminded of these words from John 16:33. As we keep striving, working, hoping, preaching, loving, truthtelling, reconciling, repenting, forgiving, dismantling, peacemaking, Kingdom building...may we fix our eyes on Christ: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” - John 16:33 Grateful for a very full weekend of ministry and preaching in Toronto, Canada (GTA). Such a privilege to partner with @worldvisioncan @wvcollective to advocate for the most vulnerable around the world. God is so gracious. A true honor to meet and encourage local pastors, lecture at Tyndale University & Seminary (photo), and preach at Richmond Hills Community Church, Compass Point Bible Church, and New City Church. Thank you, Lord, that you use broken and imperfect people like me to speak of Your love. Today, Minhee and I dropped off our eldest child at her college. We have been thinking and praying about this day for many years. On some days, we hoped it would never come. On other days, we couldn't wait for it to come. On some days, we prayed for time to stop and other days, we prayed with anticipation. 
After an entire summer of laughing it off, it hit us...hard...this week. Seeing all of her stuff laid out on the basement floor was the catalyst to a load of emotions.

After unloading the car and taking her stuff to her new home for this year and mindful that she might never live with us again; helping sort out her stuff, saying hello to her roommates...I wasn't sure what to do or say.

A flood of thoughts rushed my mind.

Is she ready?
Have we done enough?
Have we taught her enough? 
What if this? What if that?

And so we shared what we have shared with her the moment she began to understand words: "Remember who you are. Remember WHO you belong to. Remember what you're about. God loves you so much. Please hold God's Word and His promises close and dear to your heart. We love you so much and we are so proud of you." And with that, we said goodbye. Even if she may not be thousands of miles away, this is a new chapter for her and even for us. I kept it composed. Her roommate was staring at me. I didn't want to be that father. I have street cred to uphold. Another final hug. 
And I came home.
And I wept.
Forget my street cred.
I miss her. I love her.
She will always be my little baby.

I'm no parenting guru. I just laughed as I wrote that line. No, I'm stumbling and bumbling along but I'd love to share an ephiphany I learned not that long ago. Coming to this realization was incredibly painful but simultaneously, liberating. To be honest, it was the ultimate game-changer in my understanding as a parent seeking after the heart of God.

While there are many methods, tools, philosophies, and biblical principles to parenting, there is – in my opinion – only one purpose or destination.

Our purpose as parents is to eventually…release them. Send forth. For His glory. Met a friend and fellow pastor who I haven't seen in over 20 years. In him, I saw a glimpse of my future. While only 10 years older, his kids are married and he's now a grandfather of 3. His love for his wife and family were so evident and his passion for the Gospel has not wavered. It was so good to see someone a bit older still passionately serving the Lord with such joy and faithfulness. Lord, help me to keep running the race for your Glory. Happy wife.
Happy life. - Eugenius 3:16

I still remember that time, many years ago, when Minhee was pregnant with our first child. She had left her family and friends in Korea just two years before. Her morning sickness was horrible and when she finally had an appetite, she craved her favorite Korean food from certain restaurants in her neighborhood in Seoul, Korea. I had no way of getting that food from those restaurants so I actually said, "How about a Whopper? Big Mac?" Sorry honey. Eat away. You deserve it. I don't care if it sounds mushy but sunsets are one of my love languages. Seoul, Korea was amazing but WOW...what a breathtaking welcome back sunset by Seattle. Not ready to let go of summer.

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