Though the church is closed, it can still honor the LORD
Hello Readers, hope all’s well. Today I’m sharing a post from my Medium account. It’s about some Christian ideas for what to do with unused, abandoned churches. Hope you enjoy it. The next post in the Victory in Virtue series is on Wednesday, and the next post in the End Times series is on Friday. Have a good week.
Several thousand churches close each year in America.
So says a 2018 article in The Atlantic by Jonathan Merritt entitled “America’s Epidemic of Empty Churches.” The article looks at what happens with the unused church buildings left over when a church closes. The article doesn’t look at why so many people are leaving church, but sticks to the issue of the buildings.
Surely you’ve heard all about declining church attendance and more people identifying as religiously unaffiliated every year. Magazines, websites, and other media make a lot of noise about this. And although the article linked above is only about the situation in the U.S., I live outside the U.S. and see the same thing. This trend is real.
But I’m not shaken by what the articles say or even what I see with my own eyes. That’s because I know that at any time, this trend could turn around drastically, overnight. People turn to Jesus by the tens of thousands for help during times of crisis like the time we’re living in now. If the 2020s continue to be as hard as 2020 has been, millions more will turn to Jesus. When the crisis is over, a good chunk of those new Christians will stay in the church (and some will drift away again). This is only a little reminder to Christians not to be dismayed by what we see, hear, or read. God is always here, always in control, and could call millions to Him, reversing the trend of disappearing churches not only in the U.S. but everywhere.
But for now of course, as long as the trend is still going, we’ll continue losing churches every year. Obviously a church without a congregation is nothing. It can’t survive, because it’s no longer serving a purpose. A church has many purposes, many objectives. But its primary purpose is being a place where the faithful gather to praise and worship Jesus as a group. If that can’t or isn’t happening in a church, that church won’t be around too much longer.
And then the physical church building is left to remain. So what to do with these things? That’s an important question, one we should not hesitate to take on. Though the people are gone, and the church is closed, these buildings could still be used for purposes that honor Christ. Even if the result looks different, these buildings can still be used for things that please God.
If the new purpose honors God, it’s far better than some things people are doing with unused churches.
How not to do it
Going back to The Atlantic article, wealthy developers and private interests have already been re-purposing churches for some time now. Church buildings are attractive because of their unique architecture and artwork. They also sit on prime real estate in the center of a community.
Developers want these churches. If a church is abandoned, it is what it is. Who can stop the developers from doing what they do? And I think the idea of a developer buying an abandoned church to do something with it is morally neutral. They’re buying an abandoned building. It only happens to be one that used to be a place of Christian worship.
Still, when the developers re-purpose a church, the new purpose they use it for can still honor Christ … or not. Sometimes the churches are turned into things that are against the spirit of the church it used to be.
Among countless other things, abandoned churches have been turned into:
- High-end apartment/condo housing
- Amusements (laser-tag arena, playground, skate park)
- And more
And this is just too bad. Maybe it can’t be helped, but it’s still sad to see.
Churches that become high-end housing surely have controlled access and security personnel. This means people are now being kept out of a building that was intended to welcome people in. Not only that, but the select few who are allowed in are those who can afford to live there. This is a sad desecration of what the church is. In my opinion it’s the worst possible option for what to do with an abandoned church.
As for bars and breweries, that’s a sad thing too. So many people are enslaved to alcohol, which is a drug that entices sin and vice. Alcohol is a terrible stumbling block and addiction for Christians and non-Christians alike. Christ wants to set people free from such evils. Seeing His temple turned into a place for indulging in an addictive drug that breeds sin, vice, violence, and sadness is depressing.
I don’t know how Heaven would feel about a church being turned into a playground, skate park, or other amusements. Would Heaven at least be happy to see children having fun? I can’t answer this question.
But I hope you see that some churches are being put to uses that are completely opposed to the spirit of these places. Does this grieve the Holy Spirit? I don’t know — it probably grieves the Holy Spirit more to see the churches close up in the first place.
But even if churches are being abandoned, things don’t need to be this way. The remaining buildings can still be used for things that please God.
Bringing people together, not keeping them out
Most churches are located smack-dab in the center of a community. This is because they’re supposed to be the center of a community. The vital role churches play is one of community.
An abandoned church can still be used to serve the community it’s located in. And if someone uses it for that purpose, that would honor God. It won’t matter if the people being served are non-Christians. We know God would much prefer to see these buildings used to bring people together and welcome people in, rather than seeing them used to serve up drinks or house the wealthy.
So let’s think of some community-oriented purposes these old churches can be used for.
- Community centers (for activities, local organizations, events)
- Classrooms and educational centers
- And more
Many excellent ideas are already mentioned toward the end of The Atlantic article. Read that to the end for some good tips.
Churches can easily be turned into vibrant community centers, because of their central location in the community. The building can be used as a space for holding activities, for local organizations to hold meetings, and for holding local events. All the above will attract community members (both Christian and non-Christian), gathering them in one place. Then they will interact, get to know each other, and work toward common goals or activities. This is a great thing.
Churches have wide spaces that can be partitioned off, and in an ideal world could be used as shelters. These shelters could provide sanctuary for the homeless, for victims of abuse, and so on. The main obstacles to making shelters would be local laws (many jurisdictions make it hard to create any kind of shelter) and financial resources.
Creating a shelter is a major project and one that would need a ton of money. But there is no obstacle that can’t be overcome, especially when a community teams up. Even the legal obstacles can be overcome, with time and persistence. All things are possible through Him who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). So never write off a project as impossible.
Creating a sanctuary for the most vulnerable members of society honors God. Even the act of the community coming together to make this happen honors God too.
Finally, church buildings can be used as informal educational centers. This is also mentioned in the article linked above. Community members can gather in a church and “skill trade.” They can gather to teach each other useful skills to help each other improve their lives.
Abandoned churches can be put to work for everything from GED tutoring to language tutoring to basic finance classes. Community members with all kinds of skills can instruct others, and everyone will become more skilled. Passing our skills on to others is how society has bettered itself since the beginning of time. Volunteering our own time to teach others is one of the greatest things we can do to love our neighbors and honor God, because teaching others can be of such great service to them. If abandoned churches are turned into informal education and classroom centers that bring a community together to teach and learn, this will honor the LORD whether the participants are Christians or not.
Still a place to honor the LORD
It’s sad when we see churches close up, but let’s not be discouraged. Not all hope is lost. Although the vibrant Christian community may be gone (for now), the function of the church building can still work.
The church buildings sit in the most central locations in a community. They have an important communal role to play, and they can still play that role even if the Christians are gone. If an abandoned church building is turned to new purposes that serve its local community, and brings people together, then this will still honor the LORD.
Even if the context is no longer explicitly Christian, as long as people are coming together it’s much better than some alternatives. What we don’t want is for these buildings to be re-purposed for uses that keep people out, that encourage addictions and vice, or other things that aren’t in the spirit of the church.
To stop that from happening, is it time for the Christian community to start buying up old, unused churches? Hey, maybe in some cases it is. The work on each church would be a major project, one that can only be done as a team. But if local Christians unite, save a church from becoming high-end housing, and turn it into a place that serves everyone in the community, it will honor and please the LORD, no matter what.
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Until next time, be strong and do good!
Your new best friend in Christ,
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