I have married couples in parks, historic mansions, gardens, and art galleries. But my heart leaped a bit when – while officiating at a wedding in a concert and party venue recently in Wilmington, NC – I read that the space used to be a Presbyterian Church.
Church buildings are sold for very good reasons. Sometimes congregations shrink and close. Sometimes they merge with other congregations.
As this article points out, the sale of church buildings reflects the demographic changes in our neighborhoods: churches become mosques, Lutheran church buildings become Pentecostal church buildings, Presbyterian church buildings become party and concert venues.
Church buildings make very cool homes, if you are willing to spend come serious coin. New York City is one of many cities finding new apartment opportunities in what used to be church spaces.
So what’s the future of church gathering spaces?
- I love the idea of House Churches but it seems difficult to find one and wander in if you are new in town. And wandering into the private home of a stranger for church is only for the bravest and most extroverted among us.
- I love awe-inspiring sanctuaries but my denomination and many others own massive buildings in not-so-great condition requiring millions of dollars to refurbish. Many of these congregations are comprised of tiny bands of worshipers who cannot afford the upkeep for these monstrosities much longer. Even historic buildings are not exempt from inevitable closings.
- I love mixed-use church buildings with space for worship, secular classes, theatre, art, and – of course – a coffee shop. But the mix of non-profit and for-profit usage is going to be an issue in terms of tax status.
If I were starting a new church today, I’m not sure what I would do. But being in the Brooklyn Arts Center in Wilmington inspired me. What if . . .
- We gathered for worship in a space that inspires but not necessarily with churchy architecture?
- We shared space with spiritual activists in other disciplines like artists or musicians or yoga teachers and we used their space rather than the other way around?
- We used a restored church building that would bring in funds as a rental venue for weddings and other parties?
It seems that – no matter what happens with our worship spaces in the future – the reality is that they will all be flexible. No more bolted down pews. No more private plaques. Minimal church stuff (hymnals, offering plates, name tags) to pull out and then put away every time the church gathers.
My dream church? Something that looks like this but has a schedule that reflects what’s needed every day of the week, every hour of the day in the neighborhood.
If you already know traditional churches that do this, I’m fairly certain that they won’t need to sell their buildings anytime soon.