Afternoon Chat: Repurposing Empty Churches

Down the street from my studio, a new school opened this year in a structure that was formerly a church. There is a growing trend across the nation, with thousands of churches closing their doors each year. While many faith communities are flourishing, there are some that aren’t. Declining congregations and lack of attendance are attributed to a transformation of modern religious behavior, causing some traditional churches to end their worship services, leaving beautifully constructed structures behind. What is a community to do?


church to school conversion

Adaptive reuse of traditional buildings isn’t new. Architecturally speaking, it’s similar to converting an old mill or factory built into a hotel or modern residences. Community leaders and architects can come together to transform the space into a thriving new venue. In another part of the small town where I live, a small Gothic style church structure is being remodeled for use as a performing arts center for the city.

The idea of converting churches does tear at my heart strings. I grew up going to Sunday school in my youth. I attended a Catholic high school, and throughout my life I’ve participated in protestant services across denominations. I have great appreciation for these institutions and respect for the faith based community. I’d much rather see new life brought to the structure, instead of watching it be torn down to make way for cookie cutter condos.

chicago conversion: church to residence

There are many examples of churches being converted into residences as well. One enormous challenge to note is the traditional high pitched ceiling. Originally planned to draw the eye up in contemplation, as a personal residence, the vaulted ceiling poses greater heating and cooling costs. Also challenging is how to make wide open spaces cozy and inviting?

What are your observations on this topic? How far should a community go to preserve religious structures? How do you feel about churches being repurposed as community centers, school, or art venues? Has this happened in your town too?


More articles of interest:

Repurposing Places of Worship

Historic Churches Reborn

Repurposed Churches of New Orleans