Should a dying church be repurposed?

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 second 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 flight 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.

Overit Media in Albany is housed in a former church.

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 recent 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. 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?

Read. Respond. Render.

Alan Rudnick

Author's Website
About the Author
Alan Rudnick has been featured on television, radio, print, and social media and serves as the Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Ballston Spa, NY. He has quickly established himself as a leader, blogger, and commentator in the areas of faith, Christianity, ministry, and social media. He is the author of, “The Work of the Associate Pastor”, Judson Press. Alan’s writing has been featured with the Albany Times Union, The Christian Century, Associated Baptist Press, and The Fund of Theological Education.

Read more posts by

  • gallwjnn

    I don’t necessarily think that having the church operate as a business during much of the week is a good idea, although I do think it begs us to take a closer,stronger look at what it really means to make a “marketplace out of God’s house of worship.”  For much of the church’s history the church has been about much more than just coming once a week to worship God.  Part of the answer does lie in reaching way out of the box in terms of interacting with the community in which the church is centered and in making the church so very readily available to that community.  The church is not only called to worship God, but to be intregal in being meaningful, of purpose, and in acessibility to the community.

  • FrederickWilliamSchmidt

    Is this all that the current crop of church leaders has to offer? After centuries of mission, sacrifice and building, we offer “fire-sales” and “re-purposing”????

  • jonatwabash

    I’m all for re-purposing, but leave the monastics out of it.  Ancient monasteries were like small towns, not modern churches or church complexes, and even modern monasteries are generally to busy for them to consider renting out their space except for occasional events (most often concerts).