The fate of religious buildings after COVID-19: will they be used again?

What will happen to church attendance after COVID-19 is up in the air with one article suggesting “Surveys do show signs of hopefulness — and also cause for concern.” But, the same piece also hints that some religious buildings will not survive because of the trouble from COVID-19:

Photo by Dan Whitfield on Pexels.com

In Maine, Judy Grant, 77, was a newcomer to Waldoboro who started watching the services online and then began attending in person…

“I’m extremely disappointed,” she said. “A lot of churches are closing. I think COVID had a big part in this latest shrinkage, but they were shrinking even before that,” she said…

Afterward, people began removing some of the church’s contents, including religious paintings, some furniture, and other items.

Grant said some hope the building will come alive again with a new congregation: “We have to be positive — and pray.”

With all that has happened, some religious congregations will stop meeting and will no longer need their building. If there is an uptick in closings of religious congregations, there might be a lot of religious buildings on the market as religious groups look to sell empty buildings.

As the example above suggests, the existing religious structure could be used by another religious group. Building a new structure is a costly task and a new congregation might jump at the opportunity to acquire and modify an existing building. The religious building could be converted to another use, whether a business office or residences. Or, a developer might see the land as good site for another use all together. Some religious buildings occupy important spaces in communities.

Even as religious groups respond to the winding down of COVID-19, it will be worth paying attention to religious buildings as well as religious congregations. As my colleague Robert Brenneman and I argue in Building Faith: A Sociology of Religious Structures, religious buildings play an important role in shaping worship and community.

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