America’s Epidemic of Empty Churches
As donations and attendance decrease, many churches struggle with the cost of maintaining their large physical structures. These churches, Jonathan Merritt writes, face a choice: Sell their buildings or repurpose their space.
Jonathan Merritt brings up an important and often overlooked issue: what to do with church buildings as congregations dwindle. The work of the Missional Wisdom Foundation provides inspiring possibilities for some of these buildings.
For the past decade, I have been researching the emptying churches in the postindustrial city of Utica, N.Y., and found other surprising reuses. Most significantly, old Christian churches are being transformed into mosques and temples to be used by new refugee and immigrant communities.
Utica’s Central United Methodist Church once attracted hundreds of worshippers, but it was sitting empty in the late ’90s. Meanwhile, Muslim Bosnians were fleeing wars in their homeland and needed a mosque for prayers and community gatherings when they arrived in Utica. The city sold the old Methodist church (by then an abandoned building) to them for about $1,000, and they converted it into a stunning space that anchors the Muslim community of the area.