Gone for Good? Negotiating the Coming Wave of Church Property Transition

"This book may help congregations that are far, far away from the sale of their church property avoid this seemingly inevitable fate." — Beth Guzman

Mark Elsdon, editor
Eerdmans, 304 pages | Published January 9, 2024

The transformation of the religious landscape impacts more than just the religious sphere, and church buildings are the physical manifestation of that change. Many properties are underutilized. Deferred maintenance is daunting for congregations with shrinking budgets. Our buildings are either a financial burden or a potential windfall to save a declining congregation. Gone for Good: Negotiating the Coming Wave of Church Property Transition centers on the hope that – with the right partnerships and a little imagination – churches can sell or transform buildings in ways that benefit the entire community. After all, as Eileen Lindner notes in her essay, 90% of folks who participate in programs run out of church buildings are not members.

Gone for Good is not a handbook on how to sell a church building. Rather, it is a collection of essays from varied perspectives on the inevitable losses of long-held properties. It invites us to consider multiple perspectives: from theological to pastoral, legal to financial, and historical to modern day. It emphasizes the legacy of colonization and unearned land grants, offering suggestions for how to right the wrongs of our spiritual ancestors. The aspiration is to assist those congregations that desire to think broader and bigger, that want to be stewards of their inheritance in the most idealistic sense of the word.

This book begs congregations not to view their buildings simply as financial assets. It asks us to resist the temptation to contribute to gentrification or to reduce social services in the neighborhood, all in the name of a quick buck. It very politely asks us to not sell only to somehow maintain the same outdated church structures that comfort us. Our buildings are power, too. This collection asks congregations to thoughtfully question how we wield this power.

Gone for Good is, appropriately, a good entrée into this conversation. In some places, it shines. In others, it feels too cordial for the turmoil that is the reality of selling a church building. And that’s OK. We tend to be far too sentimental about our buildings, leading us to neglect our power to do good. This book could be a good first step for brave congregations that are willing to wrestle with our colonial and racist past. In fact, it may help congregations that are far, far away from the sale of their church property avoid this seemingly inevitable fate. If we wait until a sale is pending, we may have lost a variety of community-saving options outlined in this collection.

Be proactive, this collection nudges. Be wary of being taken advantage of by developers, it urges. Don’t contribute to gentrification and the continuing privatization of community resources. We are better than that. Ultimately, this collection does not assert that selling a building will somehow magically revitalize a congregation. Our mission as Christians is somehow bigger and bolder than that. Jesus, himself, may agree.

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Interested in a conversation about church property transition? Presbyterian Outlook Editor Teri McDowell OTt spoke with Mark Elsdon, editor of Gone for Good, on February 15, 2024. The 60-minute webinar included a brief presentation and time for a Q&A. A recording is available.