Churches today find all sorts of buildings to be used as church campuses. While new construction is a great way to build a facility that meets specific needs, many churches are finding success converting facilities with entirely different, original purposes. Here are some less traditional venues that I have seen over my many years of church lending:
- Shopping Centers: This seems to have become a standard for church construction: find a shopping center, and convert it for church purposes. One of my favorite projects is a shopping center conversion along a major freeway. The visibility for the church is tremendous, and a historic electric sign proclaims messages and invitations to the tens of thousands of cars that pass by every day. Shopping center conversions make particularly good sense for large churches. The larger buildings formerly occupied by anchor tenants become the sanctuary and education buildings, and the smaller buildings become bookstores, offices, classrooms, or they might be leased out to other businesses for income. The conversion of the entire shopping center might take years to complete, as the church grows and has greater space requirements.
- Bowling Alley: Yes that is right, a bowling alley. A church we've worked with converted a former bowling lanes into a sanctuary (see above picture). They created very nice office space and classrooms out of the other sections of the building.
- Old Movie Theatres: Turning old movie theaters into worship centers and meeting spaces is pretty common around the country. Movie theater properties have limited uses and can be purchased inexpensively, at times.
- Office and Medical Buildings: Smaller churches are finding that office buildings and medical buildings which have large common areas convert well into churches.
- Auto Dealership: One of the more creative conversions I have seen involves a former auto dealership. The church converted the sales floor into the worship space and converted the surrounding offices and shop into classrooms, offices, and smaller meeting spaces. Fortunately, the dealership did not have any underground storage tanks (UST’s). UST’s raise concerns over environmental issues and require testing and normally require removal (all of which can be expensive).
- Mechanic’s Garage: Converting a mechanic’s garage with space for about 40 cars to a church was complicated. The garage floor sloped significantly and required leveling. This involved pouring quite a bit of concrete and creating flat floors from wood foundations. It worked out great in this metropolitan area where the square footage was such a premium.
- Large tent structures: I recommend caution regarding this particularly creative way of creating classroom and worship space. Tent-like structures can add a tremendous amount of church space at a seemingly low cost. This approach can work for rapidly growing churches with the cash to pay for the facility. These structures are typically built where land cost is relatively reasonable. The difficulty for most churches is that traditional financing tends not to be available. Large tent structures require specially designed concrete foundations, electrical and plumbing that do not convert easily to traditional construction.
As a result, the concrete foundation generally needs to be scraped when converted to more traditional structures, so it creates a negative value. Also, it is very important to stay away from all used, tent-like structures. One church I worked with purchased a used 10,000sf tent structure for several hundred thousand dollars and ended up hauling it to the dump before it could be used by them. The manufacturer refused to help the church obtain the missing parts and pieces. In general, I am not a fan of tent structures, except in a few rare cases where the church is growing extremely fast and can pay cash as well as afford to take a total loss on the tent structure down the road when a more traditional structure is built.
Other facilities that I have seen make great churches include schools, motels that are converted for missionary housing, and a whole variety of residential properties. Youth groups oftentimes love the odd building out back that can be their own space.
Creativity can be well rewarded when it comes to finding a church facility that had totally different purposes originally.
Are you thinking of purchasing a facility for your church or ministry? Learn about CIF's Loans.
Sign up for our newsletter to get more just like it delivered directly to your inbox!