I have tracked the fate of religious buildings both professionally and on this blog (such as conversions to residential units). I have also asked: just how many conversions of religious buildings to residences are taking place?
Some hard numbers to start answer this question recently arrived:
More than 6,800 religious buildings have sold in the past five years and more than 1,400 are currently for sale in the U.S., according to the commercial real estate database CoStar.
Some will be sold to other congregations, while others will become something entirely different — like a nun-themed coffee shop.
And some helpful context for these numbers:
“The buildings we have that were built in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s are not really functional for today’s perspective,” said Simons, author of Retired, Rehabbed, Reborn: The Adaptive Reuse of America’s Derelict Religious Buildings and Schools. “Too many classrooms, a little bit too big.”
These large religious buildings can fall into disrepair, placing a financial burden on shrinking congregations. The process is a “vicious circle,” said Simons, because congregations in deteriorating buildings may have trouble attracting new members, which in turn reduces donations.
The numbers are helpful: out of roughly 300,000 religious congregations in the United States, roughly 1,350 religious buildings a year are sold. Alas, we do not get more data on what happens to those structures. The rest of this news story follows a format similar to earlier stories: religious buildings can be turned into all sorts of things! This is true – there are lots of possibilities. How many are demolished? Converted into businesses or residences? Made into schools, community centers, or homes for non-profit groups? And while the angle of a religious buildings becoming a secular structure is interesting, the number of times one religious group sells to another – a fairly common occurrence and often a very helpful option for the purchasing congregation – is ignored.
Going further, the numbers on sales only tell so much when the range of costs to rehab or reuse the building could be high. The suggestion from the story above is that a number of the buildings need significant work. Selling a building may often be a last resort of a congregation, meaning the group may not have had the resources to take proactively keep up the building for a while. The sale of the building might just be the first step in a much longer process of transforming the building (which my research suggests could then lead to issues in the community regarding making changes to an established structure).