After congregations outgrow their buildings, both large and small houses of worship do not always continue to function as religious sanctuaries. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition is headquartered in an old synagogue in Chicago. Aside from strange abandoned places in Texas, there are also abandoned churches. Cities have converted abandoned churches into antique stores. Perhaps you dined in a restaurant that was once a church. Whatever your plans for the structure are, occupying the holy ground may bring you additional blessings.
Make sure that everyone involved in the church purchase process understands the objectives and goals you’ve set for purchasing a building that meets your needs. Obtain buy-in from your board of directors, church administrators, or advisory group so that everyone is aware of the long-term implications of commercial property financing.
Purchasing a church building is a thrilling but intimidating step in your ministry. Perhaps you’re expanding your current church by building a satellite location; perhaps you’re upgrading from an outgrown building, or perhaps you’re starting a completely new church. There will be obstacles in your way no matter how you approach this project–as there always are–but we’re here to help you get through the church buying process as painlessly as possible.
1. Look for commercial financing.
The lender will inevitably follow. You’ve built up cash reserves over a long period, as well as fundraising efforts, and now it’s time to borrow money. This is where all of your hard work pays off: you have the financial documents, you have the down payment, and now all you have to do is find the best lender, negotiate a good rate, and secure the funds you require for the church.
Interest rates are at historic lows in the current economy, but churches are on shaky ground. You’ll have to convince them that your new building idea is sound and that you’re capable of carrying such a burden. Fortunately, if you’ve been doing all of the other legwork, convincing the lender shouldn’t be too difficult. Lenders prefer buyers who are financially and mentally prepared and having a clear set of financial statements and a significant down payment demonstrates that you are on the right track.
Now, there’s a lot more to getting a commercial loan than that. Some loans require collateral, and you may be required to put up your current church building as collateral in some cases. You must also have a good credit score for the church as well as for yourself. They want proof that you can make timely payments and that you are deserving of a low-interest rate. The last thing you want is to be so desperate for a loan that you agree to terms that will cost you tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of the loan.
2. Make use of an expert broker.
While it is not a requirement for purchasing a church, there are church brokers who specialize in all things related to churches. Churches have different regulations than residential and commercial properties, and you don’t want to buy a building only to discover that some minor zoning regulations prevent you from putting together the facilities you want. You don’t want a commissioner to show up after you’ve signed the paperwork and tell you that you can’t pave the parking lot or erect a marquis. Expert church brokers will assist you in this endeavor.
3. Begin your building fundraising efforts as soon as possible.
You should start looking for appropriate facilities at least a year ahead of time. Tally contributions as they come in, marking the progress of your fund-raising efforts with a sign or symbol—a graphic thermometer in a public place is a great way to depict the project’s financial progress and encourage people to contribute.
4. Find the correct church property.
You must find the ideal property whether you are starting from scratch or moving into an existing structure. Also, it is important to know tips for exploring abandoned places. As previously stated, expert church brokers can assist you in finding church locations that are ideal for your congregation and community. But chances are you’ve already had your eye on a location. You must be flexible because the property may be off the market by the time you raise the funds to make the down payment. It’s a good idea to have a few options in mind.
It’s also a good idea, especially for fundraising, to buy the land first and then get a loan for the building later after the land has been purchased. Having a piece of land that your members can drive past and imagine themselves going to church on can be a powerful motivator when it comes to raising funds. This is risky because if the economy tanked and donations dried up, or interest rates rose, the loan you took out to build your church on that pre-purchased property would be more difficult to repay.
5. The Price Negotiation.
It’s not uncommon for properties to sell for less money to a church because a good church building makes a good neighbor and will increase the property values of the area surrounding it, but there are benefits to being a church.
Volunteers in your congregation can also help: if you have church members who are electricians, plumbers, or contractors, you can ask them to give you realistic estimates of how much the project will cost, which you can use to help you negotiate the price.
6. Acquire permits and licenses required by your state and community.
If you’re already operating under your state’s religious tax laws, look for pro bono legal representation for contract, sale, and closing help. Make sure your lawyer looks for and moderates any language in the contract that adds prepayment penalties, especially if a pledge program has been set up to pay off the mortgage debt on a set schedule.
Again, a church broker can help here, but it can also be done without one. Likely, you won’t be the one dealing with this: someone, whether it’s the contractor, the lender, the broker, or the architect, will obtain the permits on your behalf. Of course, you must ensure that it is completed, but the burden of visiting the necessary offices and dealing with their unique brand of red tape is unlikely to fall on your shoulders.