Your church is thriving—adding new attenders, forming small groups, serving your community—and growing together as a congregation. You’ve added services to accommodate growth. But you’ve reached your building’s limit. You need to spin off a group of attenders to a site elsewhere (multi-site) or perhaps completely relocate your church. Get ready for the journey of your life. You will first need to assemble your resources, but soon it’ll be time to look for property!
Whether it’s an existing building or undeveloped land, the process of procuring a property that is suitable for a church will be challenging. It’s not as easy as searching a database for available properties, although that is a good start. Every property will have challenges and uncovering all the issues will take effort. You’ll have to kiss some frogs before you find your prince. There are important pre-requisites that must be considered which include:
Zoning. It’s important to identity property in a zone district which allows church as a use by right. The likelihood of changing the zoning in today’s unfriendly environment is very low (but still possible). If the site was a former retail business, expect the municipality to fight against a non-profit use. Municipalities simply require tax revenue to fund important municipal services (police, fire, utilities, roads, etc.). If you end up desiring to proceed anyway, we can assist you in arguing the intrinsic and economic value that your church brings to the community—it’s substantial!
Adaptive Re-use. Any possible existing building that you identify, that has not already been a church (assembly use), will require a change of use permit. This means that the building department (issues building permits) will require that the building meet the code for an assembly use. The building will likely need upgrades to the mechanical system (more cold air and adequate recirculating fresh air) and upgrades to the life safety (property exiting and fire attenuation).
Parking. Some of the best property options are former big box retail spaces that anchor large shopping centers. At first blush, there appears to be plenty of parking. But don’t be deceived. You need to consider your required parking carefully. Your auditorium will never reach full occupancy if there are not places for the last arrivers to park. Most shopping centers have cross-easement parking arrangements that give all tenants equal access to the parking areas. So, if you have neighbors that are open on Sunday’s, you need to allow them sufficient spaces close to their entrance for their customers. You should figure that you will need one space for every 2.0-2.5 occupants in your building, depending on your demographics. Your church’s occupancy count should be determined by counting all people that will be in the new building at the peak service.
Access. If you don’t have two ways the exit the parking lot onto the primary arterial street when the service or event ends, then you can expect people to get frustrated waiting. This is a recipe for long-term disaster. It’s critical that there are two ways in and two ways out.
Seek a site off Main and Main. The best church properties are not located on the corner of main and main. These are typically more expensive and best suited for retail uses. Since a church facility is a destination, people only need to find it once. To attract new attenders, its important that the church have at least a portion of its building visible from main and main. A sign, or any portion of the building (upper levels) are elements that are visible from great distances. There are ways to highlight these visible elements to make them stand out both day and night.
Hiring the right Real Estate Broker. You need a real estate agent who is willing to roll his sleeves up and do some hard work! Real estate agents often overlook the difficulty of finding church property—especially undeveloped land. The easy part is to find property options, but the work begins when you start researching the zoning, development guidelines, parking availability and construction costs for each. This likely will require a personal visit to the local municipal planning department.
Land is Complex. Not only do you need to determine whether you can actually construct the size and style of building your church will need, you will need to carefully determine the costs to prepare the land for vertical development. This will require the involvement of an architect, a civil engineer, a general contractor and engaging with the municipality in a concept review process.
CFS is a full-service commercial real estate brokerage and development organization committed to serving churches. This vision aligns with our principals’ personal values as followers of Jesus Christ. CFS provides A to Z services including strategic planning, financial feasibility, site or building selection, capital campaign, financing (as owner’s representative), project team selection, project and construction management (also as owner’s representative), furniture, fixtures, equipment, audio, visual, light procurement, and relocation coordination.