A disturbing trend is emerging in the repurposing of historic church buildings across the globe. Churches that once thrived with flocks of worshipers are being deconsecrated from their original religious intent. They still look like churches on the outside, but on the inside, what once was vital spiritual activity is now commercial, educational or cultural instead.
On a recent trip to the Scottish Highlands, I noticed a stately old church that had become a small hotel and restaurant. In Amsterdam you can see some of the oldest and most beautiful Protestant churches that function now as museums and community centers. The now-defunct Lakewood Baptist Church in our own community is now a bustling private school, Lakehill Academy.
The most striking repurposing of a church building, though, may be in Barcelona, Spain. The grand 19th century church, Torre Girona, was rebuilt after the Spanish Civil War and presents bypassers with the illusion of a sacred space within. But since 2005, within the old church you will find the Barcelona Supercomputing Center that fills the main hall. The MareNostrum supercomputer rests there inside a temperature-controlled glass enclosure. One of the world’s most powerful computers, MareNostrum aided the development of microchip technology, human genome mapping, astrophysics calculations and weather predictions.
Not all repurposing of church buildings requires new secular functions. Gaston Oaks Baptist Church in North Dallas has brilliantly foreseen a way to achieve its spiritual mission differently after the aging mother congregation is gone. It began by inviting financially challenged ethnic congregations to worship in its space. The church is now incubating healthy immigrant congregations from Africa, Myanmar (Burma) and Latin America. The Gaston church is legendary for sending more missionaries to the world than perhaps any Baptist church in the last century. Now that the world is on its doorstep, missionaries from around the globe are basing their outreach in the Gaston church building.
Next, the church created the Gaston Christian Center that houses community ministries such as the Healing Hands Clinic, which provides medical and dental care to the needy, and Gateway of Grace, a refugee resettlement ministry. This is a promising way of impacting the community even after the host church has ceased to be. Like seeds planted in fertile ground, these efforts will bloom for a new generation of God’s work.
Other churches are finding new life as new church starts in old church buildings. Munger Place Church in East Dallas gave the property of the declining Munger Place United Methodist Church a new birth. The North Texas Conference and Highland Park United Methodist Church demonstrated entrepreneurial spirit in modeling resurrection life for a once-dying congregation.
Of course, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” as the old saying goes. The best outcome for any church is to maintain a strong worshipping and serving community all along, so that decisions about repurposing need never be made. Faithful members, generous giving, wise leadership and a focus outward more than inward are crucial components of enduring religious ministries.
What will become of your house of worship in the next generation? It will depend in part on you.