Closed Churches Are Being Saved, Transformed Into Homes

June 19, 2019

For Sale signs in front of places of worship are becoming more common as attendance at smaller churches dwindles. Some developers and home buyers are stepping in to transform the churches into their new home. A handful of former churches are being converted into single-family homes or apartments.

In the U.S., church membership has been decreasing over the past two decades. About 50% of Americans belonged to a church, synagogue, or mosque in 2018, down from nearly 70% in the 1990s, a Gallup poll shows.

As attendance declines across nearly all denominations, the need for buildings to hold them has decreased. For example, the Archdiocese of Chicago is selling churches to other denominations, a spokesperson told the Chicago Tribune, and many of these former holdings are being converted to residential, educational, or community uses across the country. Some also are being demolished for redevelopment.

A former place of worship for sale can be difficult to market, in having to respect former parishioners’ ties to the building and to find the right buyer who wants the size and configuration of a former church for their residence.

But some developers believe that a former church can be transformed into a unique, appealing home. For example, the former Agudas Achim synagogue in the Chicago area, which closed in 2008, has recently been renovated into residential studios and one-bedroom housing units. The apartments are nearly sold out after opening in March.

The former churches “have some really adaptive reuse features,” the developer Alex Samoylovich, co-founder of Cedar Street Cos., which owns the building, told the Chicago Tribune. “We kept a lot of the core characteristics.” For instance, the architectural details of the arched windows and stained glass were preserved, and units also feature the building's exposed brick walls.

“There’s something that felt very inspiring about living in a renovated religious facility and a place that has history,” Betsy Bowman, who lives in the former synagogue, told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s the inspiration element of it, and I’m a huge believer in energy.”