One of the realities of congregational decline is that many church buildings – built to accommodate double or quadruple (or more!) the number of people who now attend or support – are consuming an inordinate amount of the church’s financial resources, and attentive human devotion whether the building serves the mission of the church or not. I have heard more than one pastor lament, “This building is like an albatross around the neck of this congregation; it’s draining all our resources. It’s killing us.”
To which I say, “It doesn’t have to be that way.”
Many faithful congregations make the decision to sell their buildings and use the proceeds in a variety of ways – to rent more usable and cost-efficient space in another location – a strip mall, for example, or, as we have seen in previous articles in this series on space and place, a bar, a park, a laundromat, shared space with another congregation, to name a few. Or they’ve sold the building, conducted a memorial celebration of the church’s life, and applied the proceeds to church planting efforts in the sure and certain hope of a resurrection in other forms and places.
Other congregations have creatively repurposed their space to collaborate with developers and community partners to provide spaces more in keeping with community needs. In the Nov, 2018 edition of The Atlantic, contributing writer, Jonathan Merritt, cites many examples of this, everything from, breweries, wineries, bars and Airbnbs, to co-working spaces, venues for local artisans, community education or small business development centers, and yoga studios. The ways the space could be repurposed is limited only by imagination. (One significant caveat here is that such a step requires an intimate understanding of the community and a true collaboration with interested stake-holders.) Many of these repurposed buildings are not only generating revenue and covering congregational expenses, they’re also creating more relevant ways for the church to engage people who may not be (are not) interested in a traditional church.
My point is this: if you find yourself persistently thinking, “this building is an albatross,” there are ways to remove it. I’m not saying it would be easy. I’m only saying that it is possible. You may not be as stuck as you think and the consequences may not be as bad as you fear.
“And I saw no temple in the city for the temple was Almighty God and the Lamb.” Rev 21:22