When it comes to managing
facilities growth in most dynamic churches, many people
traditionally think in terms of buying land and building a brand new
facility. But in today’s changing world, there are at least ten
reasons a church should seriously explore purchasing and renovating
an existing building to meet their expansion needs.
1. Available properties.
In many major cities, there has been a downturn in the real estate market
for retail, office, and commercial properties. Large buildings with tens of
thousands and even hundreds of thousands of square feet are sitting empty
across America. Many of these empty properties have attractive exteriors,
ample square footage, tall enough ceilings for sanctuaries and gymnasiums,
plenty of parking, and are located on a major road.
2. Affordable costs.
Across the country, the price for new construction has been escalating
beyond reach for many churches. On the other hand, the price of many
existing properties is much for cost effective. I was part of a growing
church plant that purchased a bankrupt racquetball club for $500,000 that
was listed for $2.2 million. Another church I know purchased a
50,000-square-foot school with a 600-person auditorium for $600,000. A
church in Maryland paid $1 for a closed high school facility that only five
years earlier had undergone $10 million in renovations. And in Chicago, a
former international corporate headquarters on 80 acres with a
280,000-square-foot building and a 900-car parking garage that was valued at
$53 million was given to a church for free!
It normally takes three to seven years to go from purchasing land to
having your first worship service in your brand new (already-outgrown)
multipurpose facility. The time needed to develop drawings, line up funding,
work with city government, put in your infrastructure, and construct the
first building will take multiple years and will frequently encounter
delays, loss of momentum, senior staff turnover, and cost overruns. Existing
facilities, on the other hand, can oftentimes be renovated within 12 months
(and sometimes less) from the date of purchase.
Less government hassles.
When I was with a growing church plant in Milwaukee, we worked directly with
our city government to choose an existing property for our future church
home. We scheduled a meeting with the planning department to discuss
existing properties and available land that we were interested in pursuing.
After they looked over our desired locations, they told us they would fight
us on five of the properties we had in mind. But they also told us that if
we pursued buying the bankrupt racquetball club they would grease the skids
and quickly approve this facility for use as a church. Guess which property
we pursued and ultimately occupied with the city’s blessing?
neighborhood opposition. If
you want to begin a controversy in a community, try to buy a large piece of
property and let the neighbors know you are going to build a church that
will attract hundreds or thousands of people that will clog the roads and
take up the land where they like to take their dogs for a walk! Across
America today communities are rising up against new super-sized buildings,
whether they be WalMarts, corporations, or churches. I know of a California
church that had a multi-year battle with the city and neighbors and
ultimately were only allowed to build on 25 acres of the 126 acres they had
purchased. When you purchase an existing property, the building is already a
regular part of the community’s landscape.
Ready-made parking lots.
One of the greatest needs for growing churches is ample parking. Existing
big box facilities or commercial buildings often have hundreds of parking
spaces on their existing property. In many cases, there is additional
parking at nearby businesses that can be used with special permission since
these businesses often don’t need parking spaces on weekends.
In real estate, the motto is “location, location, location.” Many of
these large facilities are sitting in prime locations with high visibility.
When your church moves to one of these locations it becomes highly visible
to the whole community. I know of one church that purchased an empty big box
sporting goods store in a prime location. Within a year their attendance
jumped from 1200 people to over 3000. A church in Florida purchased over
400,000 square feet of retail and commercial property that included a mall,
movie theaters, bowling alleys, and restaurants, and turned it into a
seven-day-a-week ministry and economic center in their community. And Joel
Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston purchased a former NBA basketball arena
for their church.
Keep your growth momentum going.
Nothing will kill the growth of a church quicker than running out of
facility or parking space. If church leaders do not strategically address
the need for expanded space in a timely fashion, momentum can be lost
forever as the church bogs down in inadequate facilities. By seriously
researching all available existing buildings within a one- to five-mile
radius (or satellite worship venues further away) you may find a God-given
solution for your expansion needs.
Easier design decisions.
When you start your design process with a piece of paper and empty acres of
land that will be occupied in three to seven years, design decisions are
difficult. But when you have a building you are going to occupy within the
next 12 months, design decisions flow more quickly because you are
concentrating on the best use of the specific space you have available. I
heard of one church that purchased a Chucky Cheese Pizza restaurant. Guess
what? They didn’t have to debate where the stage or the kitchen or the
children’s play area would be. All they had to do was concentrate on the
fix-up, painting, carpet/chair color, and deciding what to do with the life
size mice and animals that were on the stage!
10. Easier to sell the vision and raise
No matter how hard you try, some people will never be able to “see”
what the church will look like if you stand them out in the middle of a
cornfield on the edge of town. But when you can have them drive up to the
existing building and let them walk around, they quickly and easily catch
the vision and see the value of what their gifts and pledges will help
accomplish. In Texas, a church purchased a beautiful newly-built Cadillac
car dealership that went bankrupt. The congregation was blown away when they
could walk in and see this beautiful new facility that was available to them
at a fraction of what it cost to build.
I trust this article helped “stretch your thinking and stretch your
faith.” I have opportunities to travel and preach around the country, and
whenever I visit a city, I look for large commercial facilities that are
sitting empty so I can pray that God will use some of these facilities for
His divine purpose. Proverbs 13:22 says the “wealth of the sinner is stored
up for the righteous.” I personally believe there are companies that have
built wonderful facilities in prime locations that are now sitting empty
because God has destined these facilities to be used by community-shaping
and life-impacting churches. Maybe one of the buildings I have prayed for
will be the God-given building for your needed expansion plans.
FOLLOW UP ACTION ITEMS:
In your community, research the following for-sale
or rental properties:
Middle schools, High schools, Movie theaters,
Large restaurants, Shopping malls, Big box stores, Corporate
offices, Manufacturing plants, Car dealerships.
4 Top Things Needed for an Ideal Property: (1)
Highly visible and accessible location, (2) Ceilings of 18’ or higher for
sanctuary and/or gym space, (3) Hundreds of existing, potential or
surrounding parking spaces, (4) Sale price that is 25-90% below what it
would cost to build today
About the author: Brian Kluth is a Senior Pastor in
Colorado Springs. He is the author of
40 Day Spiritual Journey to a More Generous Life, a Bible
devotional booklet (www.GenerousLife.info)
that hundreds of churches have used to inspire generosity and increased
giving (oftentimes for building campaigns). He is also the founder of
www.MAXIMUMgenerosity.org and has a free e-newsletter on church giving
that goes to over 18,000 pastors and leaders.