Do a google search. Type in the words “church turned into apartments.” See what comes up. You’ll be surprised. It’s been happening for a while now. What were once beautiful, strategically placed Gothic-like structures in many of our cities and suburbs, are now really cool modern overly priced apartments and homes.
It’s hard to believe that we once wanted people to come and see our church sanctuaries. We invited everyone. We made it a big deal (and still do) about decorating our sanctuaries, because we wanted guests to be in awe of how awesome our worship spaces were, and we wanted our church folk to be proud of our living room called the church sanctuary.
If you entered the house of the Lord, you dressed up for the occasion. There was a day when women wore dresses and really big hats and men wore their dark gray suits and neatly pressed shirts, because the country club (I mean the church) had a dress code.
My home church in Los Angeles is beautiful. A long time ago I was one of the church custodians (It was really my first job in the church). I had almost every key to the church. I’d often escape into the sanctuary because it was the quietest place on the earth. I’d play the church piano, pray, or simply just rest. We would sometimes take the youth groups into the sanctuary and play hiding go seek in the dark at night. Kids loved it. We big kids loved it too.
The local church is much smaller now. Churches that used to have 2 or 3 morning services can barely fill their pews. Honest heartfelt questions are being asked. “Do we close and rent the church out to a bigger church, doing all of the things we can’t do anymore? Do we sell the property, downsize, and relocate? What does the local church do, with its buildings, now that we’re not the most popular place in the community on any given Sunday morning anymore?
Some of these churches don’t have the volunteers they once had. They can no longer afford to pay the bills, pay staff, and are coming to the conclusion that it’s time. And how do you not say yes to the first real estate agent that walks through the sanctuary doors, and offers to buy the church? What if rethinking what we do with our church buildings is an opportunity for God to help us get up from our pews, and actually move back out into our neighborhoods? What if it’s God’s way of rebooting our hearts and helping do what really matters most when it comes to loving the people that are literally right outside the walls of our churches?
I’m confident that there’s still life in some of our small churches. Might these churches sell of their buildings one day to the highest bidder, to have their sanctuaries turned into cool hip energy saving apartments? Maybe. I believe that the there are still faithful Christ followers who care about their neighborhoods and simply have forgotten Christ’s simplest commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34) These are people who get God’s mission and who want to be the church in the world, but their buildings have become financial burdens.
What if we empowered the local church to love and to partner with others in the community around a cause that resembled God’s love in way that reached those who could care less about whether or not the local church sat on any given corner in any of our cities? The question really isn’t whether or not we can do church better. The question is what would it look like if we did church differently and in a way that grabbed the attention of those who have forgotten what the church looks like or should look like? I’m thinking the only way we’re going to do this is by reminding the people in our pews that the church needs to wake up to the reality that there are real people outside the walls of our church buildings, starving for community, who want to feel like they belong, and who want to be used in ways that bring life into our neighborhoods.
What gives me hope for the local church is that Jesus hasn’t changed. God’s love still remains. The reality is that God’s people need to change. Maybe, it’s time to ask God to begin removing the walls that keep us from getting up from our pews, walking outside, and engaging with those who want more than just a building? Maybe, it’s time to reengage with those who could care less about the building and who actually want to follow Jesus because of the frightening and radical call to love those outside the walls of our churches?