New Life for Old Church Buildings

By Briggs, David | The Christian Century, September 18, 2007 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

New Life for Old Church Buildings

Briggs, David, The Christian Century

Dozens of children chattered with excitement in a space where the faithful of the former Heights United Presbyterian Church once raised their voices in worship. The pews were gone, and the sanctuary had become a youth-club basketball court in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

Overseeing the gathering was not a preacher but a former basketball player surrounded by kids eager to have a place to play on a warm summer day.

What has not been lost in the transition is a sense of purpose and energy--some would even say mission--in this old brick building.

"I can't think of a better way if the church could not make it there than to develop a program that would make young people's lives better," said Louise Westfall, pastor of nearby Fairmount Presbyterian Church. "That seems to me to be very sacred work."

If only all closed churches could do so well in their next lives.

The issue of what to do with former sanctuaries is a growing concern for mainstream churches in the heartland and across the nation. Massive population shifts to the suburbs are leaving behind financially struggling churches with dwindling membership in the cities and inner-ring suburbs.

For example, over the next year and a half the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland will consider whether to close or merge more than 45 of its 231 parishes.

Church leaders from all denominations find themselves balancing the desire to have the buildings used for continued ministry with more practical considerations, such as receiving a high sale price. In a few cases, the buildings are in such disrepair that they must be razed. In most cases, the buildings will be sold or transferred to another church. But there have also been many instances of imaginative conversions, in which the original building is preserved as an architectural jewel in the neighborhood so the structure can serve the community as, for example, municipal offices, business space, an arts complex or housing.


Continuing the legacy of a building that for decades served as a spiritual beacon is important, particularly for people grieving the loss of their church, religious leaders say.

Members of a closed church consider it "sacred space given by their ancestors, and they'd like to see it continue as sacred space," said Daniel Drew, who oversees local church mergers for the United Methodist Church.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

New Life for Old Church Buildings


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?