Abandoned Churches (8 Things to Know + Buying Tips)
Is there an abandoned church near you?
Do you dream of living in a converted chapel with high roofs and stained-glass windows?
Why do churches get left empty and unused?
1. Why Churches Close Down
The primary reason why churches close is the lack of a viable congregation.
A church may lose its community because of:
Local Economy Crashes
If significant employers leave an area, workers and their families leave to find new jobs elsewhere.
When the congregation dwindles, it is no longer financially possible to keep running a church and paying the salaries and upkeep.
The building closes, and the faithful choose to hire a hall or meet in someone’s living room.
The speaker in the pulpit can either encourage active membership in the church or drive them away.
Leadership is everything in a local church, and an unpopular preacher will lose the congregation to another church.
There is no formula for success as a preacher other than having and projecting the faith that resonates with the audience.
A church that is not active in its community will decline and close.
A thriving church is a community hub demonstrating its values from visiting the sick to providing clinics and playgroups.
It is a bit of chicken and egg, and a church needs a healthy congregation to provide volunteers to run groups centered on the church.
Without the community links and service, a church loses its congregation and has no potential volunteers.
A thriving church tends to be fully occupied every day of the week with a mixture of secular and faith-based activities.
Competition for Time
A church competes for time and attention in an increasingly crowded arena.
A couple of centuries ago, you went to church and church events as your primary entertainment and social activity.
Fast forward to the present day, and the church must compete against kids’ sports clubs, online activities, and a frenetically busy lifestyle.
When people have limited free time, they may actively prioritize some quiet downtime or a visit to the beach in preference to church attendance.
If the local population has a different faith from the local church buildings, the congregation that attends a local church will decrease.
If a previously Christian area has a high influx of Muslims, then a mosque is more necessary for the faithful than a church.
Plus, people may consider themselves spiritual rather than religious.
Spiritual people may not need to sit through a sermon at a set time each week, preferring a more tailored individual practice.
The area may remain significantly Christian but of a different denomination to the local church.
The local church may no longer fit the needs of a local population, and without a viable congregation, it will close.
If there are multiple churches in an area with small congregations, it makes sense to merge them into one church with one building to maintain and one preacher to pay.
The surplus churches are abandoned.
In rural areas uniting churches may mean increasing travel time to attend a service, or a traveling minister may prefer to have a service in a local home rather than a sizeable drafty building.
Lack of Staff
A thriving church needs a team to keep it running – paid and unpaid.
If you can’t find enough volunteers and paid staff to keep the church running, then like a business, the church will close.
Although churches deliver their faith services (in theory) freely to the community, there is a business element. People pay subscriptions, wedding, and baptism fees.
Most churches generate an income by fundraising events, hiring out rooms, and seeking charitable donations.
Some decisions about keeping a church open relate to accounting and personnel issues familiar to any businessman. Sometimes a church closes because the numbers don’t work.
2. What Happens When a Church Closes?
The process for closing a church may differ depending on the denomination that owns the church buildings.
The principle of closing a church is to remove it from the consecrated practice of worship and regard it as a secular building.
Typically, there is a final service, appropriate paperwork filed, and locked doors. The building is no longer a place of worship.
3. Can You Live in an Abandoned Church?
When a church is no longer a place of worship, it is a secular building that can convert to use as a home, offices, workshops, or any other purpose.
Developers specializing in repurposing old buildings convert abandoned churches into individual homes, apartments, or any other marketable property.
Where possible, the distinctive architecture of the church remains to provide interesting features.
4. Can You Buy a Church?
After a church closes its doors on its last sermon, it is a property for sale like any other.
If you have the funds available, you can buy a church. If you need financing, you will need a business plan showing how you will use the building to obtain a loan from a bank.
Depending on your goals, you may be able to access grants to help preserve the church if it is a historical building.
5. How to Buy a Church?
Before you go looking for church property, ensure you have adequate financing in place.
You may need to start fundraising to amass the capital if it is a community project.
If you want the church to house your business, the bank will want to see a business plan. If you convert the church into a home, you will need a development plan.
You can find a church for sale by using a local estate agent or a specialist church real estate firm specializing in the commercial sale of churches.
After that, it is a straightforward negotiation and purchase as if the church were any other property.
Check your local government rules as you may need planning permission for a change of use.
As part of your due diligence, check for any restrictions relating to the church building – relatives may have the right to visit graves, and you may have conservation restrictions.
6. How to Find the Owner of an Abandoned Church?
The quickest and most convenient way to find the owner of an abandoned church is to pay a property lawyer a small fee to complete the necessary searches.
You can check the land register yourself – all states and countries have an official way of recording who owns what property.
Typically, this information is available online for a nominal fee.
The advantage of involving a lawyer to complete your searches is having one person dealing with all the potential legal issues.
7. What Are the Opportunities in Converting a Church?
Churches are ideal buildings for many purposes – whatever you want, a church makes an attractive structure.
A church can become:
- Dance studios.
- Industrial units.
- Meditation center.
- Community center.
- Yoga studio.
- Family home.
Whatever you need the building for, churches are beautiful and unique structures.
8. Making the Most of the Exquisite Architecture
Across the US, churches are in contemporary and traditional styles with references to world cultures.
Some of the most common features are:
- High ceilings.
- Large arched doorways.
- Arched windows.
- Stained glass.
- Spires and bell towers.
- Ornate stonework.
- Internal pillars.
A sympathetic development retains these features to delight visitors and owners. Maintaining the high ceilings gives a feeling of spaciousness and light.
You can keep the high space by using a minstrel gallery or mezzanine floor.
Some uses, like a yoga studio or restaurant, will benefit from the ambiance provided by the high ceiling.
Consider how the existing windows and doors contribute to the design when planning the internal layout. You can use contrasting or complementary materials on the inside to highlight quality stonework.
Every church building is unique and how best to retain and enhance the architectural features for a different purpose is one of the fun challenges of renovating an abandoned church.
You may have a free hand in your design or be constrained to preserve the outer shell entirely.
Abandoned churches are an opportunity to create stunning and unique homes and business premises. Available church buildings vary from ancient to contemporary because when the congregation moves, the facilities close.
As a development project, a church provides a robust and exciting structure adaptable to any purpose.
A sensitive development retains a local landmark and breathes new life into an area.
All churches represent a past community effort to erect and maintain; repurposing these buildings honors the work of previous generations.