Faith communities as catalysts,
leveraging their underused buildings and property
for the sake of their neighborhoods and their mission
It will come as no surprise to anyone that the future of congregations and their houses is uncertain.
According to Pew Research, the number of religiously unaffiliated (those who identify as “none of the above” or “nothing in particular”) has increased dramatically. The “Nones” nearly doubled between 2007 and 2019, and are projected to be a majority of the U.S. population by 2040 (just 18 years from now). Meanwhile, every U.S. Christian denomination is shrinking in membership and attendance with the number who attend regularly (at least once per month) having already dropped below 50% of the population, and is continuing to fall, leaving a majority of worship spaces operating at less than half capacity. The inevitable impact on finances has left most congregations facing some degree of financial difficulty, leading to an estimated 3,850–7,700 worship centers closing every year, according to The Journal of Pastoral Psychology. Where once were church buildings now stand bookstores, brew pubs and wineries, skate parks and laser tag arenas, luxury condos, and even frat houses.
At the same time, many urban and rural communities are struggling with dozens of issues like the lack of access to living wage employment, affordable housing, medical insurance, health care, and social services, according to the Regional Indicators Dashboard Project, all of which leads to many living in substandard conditions or even becoming homeless because they can’t afford to live and work in their communities. Ironically, many of the government and nonprofit organizations that could help these people with the challenges they face also cannot afford to locate in their communities.
And, of course, Covid.
All these factors combine to create a vicious cycle with little hope for things improving for congregations and the communities they serve, right?
What if congregations were to look for hidden opportunities in the challenges they face?
Bloomberg CityLab estimates that there are more than 500,000 acres of unused church land in the United States (more than that, undoubtedly, if you include land owned by congregations of other religious traditions). Meanwhile, according to research by Pushpay, most houses of worship are empty 85% of the time. And there’s all that underused space we talked about above.
Most congregations are currently trying to fill their financial gaps opportunistically rather than strategically, renting out their unused rooms on a first-come-first-serve basis for things like Wedding receptions, birthday parties, Scout or AA meetings, yoga or aerobics classes, or performances. Some even rent their unused property for neighborhood festivals, club barbeques, or for crop growing by a local farmer. Not that any of these are bad things, per se, but they are often done primarily for the money they can raise – not tied to their vision and mission nor grounded in any data about neighborhood needs.
To use their land and buildings more strategically, congregations need readily accessible and practically useful data about the demographics of the people in their neighborhoods and the issues they are facing. They also need a process for moving from understanding to real-world, actionable strategies.
That’s where FaithX comes in: providing interactive reports about the characteristics of people and the needs of the neighborhoods, and providing consultative assistance to help you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your congregation, the opportunities and challenges in your community, and leveraging your strengths, including your property and building, to bring resources to bear on on the needs of the community.
We call this approach Congregation–Based Neighborhood Resource Hubs.
If you’d like to find out more about how this process works, click here
or contact us here.