The decision to sell a church property can be daunting. You most likely have fond memories of worship, community gatherings and personal connections tied to the church that can make it hard to let go. Sometimes, however, selling the property is the right choice.
Here are eight things to keep in mind when deciding if it’s time to move on.
1. Are Attendance Numbers Down?
If it seems like the church is emptier lately, you’re not alone. Many churches are seeing a steady decline in attendance. Younger people are less religious than their parents and grandparents and just 47% of Americans in 2020 said they belonged to a house of worship.
As countries worldwide become more developed, organized religion is declining proportionally. Lower attendance numbers and an aging congregation are both signs your church may be struggling, so consider this when deciding whether to sell the property.
2. Does the Church Need Serious Maintenance?
Deferred maintenance decreases property value, but it can also be one of the main reasons you need to sell the church in the first place. It’s still possible to sell a building in need of maintenance, so don’t be ashamed to walk away from the property if you can’t afford it anymore. Just factor any maintenance costs into your asking price.
3. How Big Are Your Bills?
Do tithes and donations offset the costs of maintenance, utilities and property taxes or are you dipping into your funds to keep the church afloat? A church isn’t meant to be a business — John 2:15-16 makes that clear — but it still needs an income to operate. If donations are down due to declining attendance, you might find the church costs more than you can afford.
4. Could Selling the Property Free Up Time?
You may be spending a lot of time on maintaining the building and trying to secure funding. If so, it’s possible you would have more time to further the church’s mission by selling the property. After all, the building is just that — a building. You can keep your ministry alive no matter where you physically hold church services.
5. Have You Planned This Decision?
It’s ideal to sell a building only after careful consideration and financial planning. If you’re thinking about letting go of the property in the middle of a fiscal emergency, you’re more likely to make rash decisions based on emotion. Consider talking with a financial planner to help guide your next move.
6. Does Your Church Consist of Multiple Properties?
A church with several buildings and lots is in a better position to sell than a church with only one structure. That’s because you can sell just part of the overall property — such as a single building — for use as a school or community center.
7. What Do Nearby Property Values Look Like?
Is your church in an aging town, miles from the nearest gas station? If so, it will be much more challenging to find a buyer. Research shows vandalism is the crime that affects property rates the most, but other factors like nearby cemeteries, power plants and airports also lower property value.
On the other hand, if the church is in a bustling urban area with sky-high property costs, you’re in a great position to sell. Nearby coffee shops, entertainment centers, good schools and outdoor recreation areas make a property more attractive to potential investors. Keep these factors in mind when deciding on an asking price.
8. Are There Zoning Constraints?
A building zoned for residential and commercial uses will likely be easier to sell than one slated for a single purpose. However, even if your church property has strict zoning laws, you might be able to change them if you make a strong enough case. For example, if someone wants to buy the building to turn it into a daycare center, make that clear when disputing the zoning constraints.
At a Crossroads — Deciding What to Do
If your church is no longer financially sustainable, selling the property may be in your best interest. Try to consider all angles when making the sale.
Although it can be hard to let go of your beloved church, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed in your duties as a pastor, just that you’re being called in a different direction. Another property may work just as well or even better for your congregation. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter where you end up as long as you remember your mission. Christianity, after all, is about more than meeting in a particular building — it’s a way of life.