Repurposing Dying Churches

October 4th, 2013

It seems that I’m stuck on thinking about dying or dead churches. Why so grim, Alan? That is a good question. It seems that folks are interested in talking about this topic. For some odd reason, I’ve been thinking about struggling churches lately. Perhaps it is because I’m writing a book on a related topic. I’m blessed with a growing and fruitful congregation to lead, but other pastors find themselves in a different situation.

Here in Albany, there are a number of congregations (mostly Catholic) who are closing their doors or selling property. According to the Albany diocese, 20% of churches will be closed. One church in particular, St. Patrick’s, is facing a fight from a group to stop the razing of the church. Some want to turn the church into a brewery or consider another purpose instead of a site for a supermarket.

Churches that closed are often bought as private homes, turned into a business, or sometimes bought by another church. I’m sure the members of a closed or closing church don’t want their structure turned into a pub or demolished to make way for a parking lot. Overit Media in Albany is one example of a church building turned business building.

Instead of closing or tearing down a church completely, is there another way?

A article from the Economist brought forward an idea that is growing. Since 1980, the Church of England has closed over 1,000 churches. That’s a lot of congregations and people. What can be done to reverse the trend? The idea goes something like this: keep the church building operating and functional, but repurposed the building so that services can be held while housing other functions. The article sites some successful examples:

“But there is a new mood in the Church of England… The plan is to turn the church into a community centre that will continue to hold religious services. This has worked elsewhere: Michaelhouse café in Cambridge… serves cappuccinos during the week but the building reverts to its original use as St Michael’s church on Sundays. In Hereford, Bath and York, working churches double as coffee shops, crèches and stores."

Could repurposing a church revive a church and help spawn new life through becoming a center for religious and cultural life? Doubling as a coffee shop and a church? Doubling as a library and a church? Doubling as a cultural center and a church? It is an exciting idea, but it is not a new one. Early church monastic communities featured gardens, centers of learning, and made money by selling goods that monks made.

But, how far could this concept go? Is it making a marketplace out of God’s house of worship or it is following where God is calling us to “be” the presence of Christ?

original post Jan. 25, 2013, reposted with permission

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