Should a dying church be repurposed?

The always thought-provoking Alan Rudnick asks what should become of the hundreds of churches that are closing all across the country. He writes:

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.

Posted by

Comment Policy
Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted. We also ask that you limit your comments to no more than four comments per story per day.

  1. Bob Patrick

    A few years ago I volunteered at an urban community center that had once been a community church. The folks in the community still referred to the building as their church. I guess we were their church since there were no other church facilities within walking distance on cold days. We held chapel services and served meals, provided literacy and healthcare services, and offered a compassionate ear and heart to walk-ins. We ran the facility on grants and volunteers and the Holy Spirit. Yes, I guess you say we were a church long after the church sign was taken down.


  2. Nancy Davidge

    Many years ago now (20?), the Old Cambridge Baptist Church (Mass) entered into an agreement with a ballet school. The school has gradually renovated the building and uses the sanctuary as its main performance space and as a classroom. On Sundays, the congregation sets up a portable altar and chairs. A number of nonprofit human services agencies have their offices/provide services in the former undercroft. The building, located in Harvard Square, is bustling with energy day and night, the congregation has a stable home, the magnificent Tiffany windows and small church yard and garden have been restored and people of all ages and income levels are drawn to this holy space.


  3. Here’s a link to Jose Mateo ballet theater.

  4. In the 1980s, a slew of matierials emerged on how to be a welcoming church. They featured hospitality tables, good signage, greeters standing outside the doors, and more. At the same time, as child care needs became more acute in our society, churches started looking for ways to open up Sunday School buildings for preschools and nurseries during the week. Beyond the church building itself, churches often have valuable downtown land and other building space. All Saints Church, Kings Heath, Birmingham UK, tore down the old rectory to create a town centre with elder care, medical care, a café and more. They took down the old stone walls that surrounded the churchyard and lay old gravestones flat to create a public square with a labyrinth, mosaics with images from every day life, quotations not of the church but compatible with it, and a simple fountain for kids to play in. They put the church office in the middle of the public offices, and the public youth program in the church building. This all required committee work with townspeople to determine what was needed and what would be used. It also required letting go of some tightly held images of what church looks like. Sorry they don’t have a website, but I’ve posted photos on a blogpost here:

  5. Jonathan Galliher

    Probably best to leave the monastics out of the re-purposing talk, since their buildings are generally either to busy to be rented out or not used at all in which case it often makes more sense to sell them outright.

    One other question that needs to be answered is how special services like weddings, funerals, and major holy days (ex. Holy Week/Triduum) are going to be handled.

Comments are closed.