1917 Church in small town and its sitting empty

14 Replies

I live in a small town population 5,000 and I bought an old house and old church.    The church is next door to the house and is located on a busy street in the heart of town.  It's a historic building and the location is such that everyone in town drives by this church on a daily basis and I think the community would be supportive of doing something with the church due to it's location and it's a shame to see it sitting empty and not in use which is what has happened these past couple of years before I bought it.

The building is 4 or 5 ft about ground.  There are 10-12 steps to climb just to go into the church.

The church is zoned residential.  There is little or no parking.  The church is large building about 2,300 sq ft with tall ceilings 20 ft +.  The full basement is unfinished.  The church is across the street from a nice well kept school with plenty of street parallel parking.  The school does not have a parking lot - just the parallel parking on the street.  It's a K-8 school and so there are no students driving to school and so it just doesn't need a lot of parking etc.

I haven't decided what to do with the church.   It's a tall building with wood siding and probably 50 ft to the top of the steeple.  High school seniors have their picture taken in front of the church and sometimes couples have their engagement picture taken sitting on the steps of the church or standing at the church doors etc.

  It's located in a residential area and for example if I were to offer it as a wedding venue, it could not be used for a night time wedding dance as this would disturb the neighbors.

Three bedroom apartments rent for $750.

I do not want to go to the expense of turning it into a duplex or triplex.

I do not want to go to the expense of turning it into a home.

Has anyone else done something like this?

I think there are many empty churches out there. 

A church builds a new facility and the old church sits there empty.

Often a church just "doesn't make it" and they close the doors and it sits there empty.

What would you do with it?

Interested to see where you take this @John Murphy . Sounds like you have some options. Personally, I would look at converting it to a MF but if you don't want to go to the expense of converting, it seems like your options are limited, correct?

why not use it as a church? talk to all the congragations/worship groups in the town that are smaller than this church and see if they are looking to upgrade their building. post advertisements for it at all the seminaries in the state looking for someone wanting to start their own congregation. maybe work out a deal where rent is based on congregation size that allows them to start out at low rent.

@John Murphy

I had a chance to buy an 1850's era church very similar to what you are describing but just couldn't come to terms with what to do with it, even at a low purchase price.  I thought it might make a very cool Air BnB but aside from that it was huge stretch to make the numbers work with any other use. Curious to see what you end up doing.  

@John Murphy  why did you buy it? what was your exit strategy before you bought it? was it a package deal with the house?

Yes the church came with the house at no cost to me.

@Ryan Murdock has a interesting idea.
An old church AirBnB would be pretty unique. You could probably get it Airbnb ready fairly cheap too.

"You can get anything you want at Alice's restaurant"  .....  whoops!  I am dating myself.....

Pretty building.  Looks to be in good shape.  So if you can get a zoning variance to enable you to use it as a legal office,  wedding venue, accounting office, day care center.  I have seen old churches converted into antique stores.   Or see if you can get one of those home improvement shows to remodel it for you for residential use.  

Just don't end up on the Group W bench....

What a pretty church! So even though you got the church for no cost, there is no money in making it inhabitable? I imagine the heating costs and maintenance costs on an old church are probably high.

I imagine that an space near a school would thrive as a daycare for kids not in school, or for after or before school care. Maybe someone would love to live there and run an at home daycare.

Obviously a church thrived there at some point, so I envision a church or community center or something that supports the kids in the area. After school teen hangout space? Do any community organizations need more space?

What about selling it to the school district. Do they need more classroom space or office space?

You said it's zoned residential, but could it be converted to a co-working space where people rent desks? An art gallery and coffee shop?

Thanks everyone - Lots of great suggestions and advice!

I bought the church 1 and 1/2 years ago.  I have spoken to our local zoning official and he is very helpful and a positive source of help and information!

My full time job is property manager of 15 apartments and I also do the repairs and remodeling and so I'm busy and don't have much time to try to do something with the church.

There's a concept in real estate "what is the highest and best use of this piece of property"

I contacted my local appraiser who appraised the home & church when I bought it and I asked her "could I pay you for an opinion regarding the highest and best use of this piece of property?"

I said "you don't need to write a report, just take a look at this and give me your opinion"

Her response was "uh no thank you" and so I have quietly gone about getting opinions from various programs and agencies such as the local Chamber of Commerce and Small Business Development and Community Funding and Development, my realtor, local real estate investors, and various programs and it's been an interesting process.

Probably the highest and best use of this piece of property is child care.

People are paying $125 per week per child for child care.

Eight kids equals $1,000 per week.

$1,000 per week is "high wages" for this community.

The building is large enough to support a large number of kids.

Sixteen kids per week equals $2,000 

Twenty four kids per week equals $3,000

I can't make $3,000 per week turning this into a duplex.

Someone mentioned turning it back into a church and that is a good idea - I like it because it can be done while I'm doing these other things and just have that as additional income!

The other possibility would be to put some money into the building and have it as a wedding venue.

People are paying $1,200 for the use of a venue - FOR THE WEEKEND.  They want the venue friday evening to set up and prepare, then have the wedding on Sat, and then come back and clean up the next day in order to receive their deposit.

Again, I want to thank everyone for their suggestions and input!

We have one here locally that was turned into an art gallery for both established artists & new talent. They threw in a coffee area, free wifi & it's booming. The artists pay for space so I it's like a pay as you go art flea market venue. It's only open on weekends. But they also have kids art days with local schools.

I like the idea of the after school daycare activities as that is in big demand. Up here they pay around $140/week for three 1/2 days/child for the after school activities. Our grandson loved his sessions & we had a hard time getting him to leave the activities & his buddies. In fact other schools were busing the kids to the after school program from affiliations they had developed with those schools.  Win Win !!!

Again, I went to an appraiser and asked if I could hire her to give me a professional opinion about what to do with a piece of property and she refused - who then is the appropriate professional to go to to seek guidance regarding "the highest and best use of a piece of real estate"?

Are there any appraisers reading this - why won't an appraiser take on a job like this?

@John Murphy   I would check into an event center for weddings and parties.  I would also either talk to a specialist agent that deals with renting churches or put it on loopnet.

You would be surprised how many people want a rental church building.  They will most likely use the parking at the local school you mentioned.

You might also want to list it here...


My buddy who used to own one of the largest hard money loan companies in he US, he has since sold it, rehabbed a church to turn into a home for himself. It was beautiful when he finished. I think it was in Texas. I asked him about it and he said it was one of he few deals he ever lost money on. 

I didn't read your full post, but I just wanted to throw out the info I had in relation to churches and doing deals.

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