COVID-19 has lowered church attendance and impacted giving. Does this mean there will be more empty church buildings in the next few years? A few hints:
Biltmore is just one of an untold number of congregations across the country that have struggled to stay afloat financially and minister to their flocks during the pandemic, though others have managed to weather the storm, often with help from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, and sustained levels of member donations.
The coronavirus hit at a time when already fewer Americans were going to worship services — with at least half of the nearly 15,300 congregations surveyed in a 2020 report by Faith Communities Today reporting weekly attendance of 65 or less — and exacerbated the problems at smaller churches where increasingly lean budgets often hindered them from things like hiring full-time clergy…
After congregants voted last May to put the church property, a two-building campus perched on a verdant knoll just off Interstate 40, on the market, church leaders are still figuring out what comes next, including where the congregation will call home. But they hope to use some of the proceeds from the property sale to support marginalized communities and causes like affordable housing…
When services went virtual, savings on utilities and other costs helped keep the budget balanced. PPP loans of some $290,000 were also key to maintaining employees on the payroll and offsetting lost revenue from renting out space and other services.
COVID-19 has been disruptive for many faith communities. The article notes the fallout in multiple areas and I will add how this might affect buildings.
- Disrupted giving. Congregations have to decide what is essential. This might differ across congregations as they consider staffing, programs, and buildings. A congregation with an older but important structure may respond differently than a newer congregation with less attachment to a property.
- Decreased attendance. The building has likely experienced less use during COVID-19. Is the same building needed in the future? Is it maintainable given fewer attendees or with modifications that make streaming services and activities possible?
- Congregations that were already struggling may have been pushed to the brink. Whereas they may have been able to hold on to a building longer or developed a solution without COVID-19, the pandemic gave a shove to property and building concerns.
Combine these factors with the regular flow of older church buildings and congregations fading away and we may just see more church buildings available for reuse or redevelopment.
See this earlier set of posts (on reusing religious buildings, building maintenance, using space differently, and different building energy) addressing possibilities for religious buildings post-COVID-19.