As an architecture firm that works almost exclusively with churches and Christian schools, we would be less than honest if we did not confess to allowing our collective joy to slip away every now and again during the roller coaster ride of 2020.
With 129 faith-based projects currently in active design or construction stages, we have walked along this path of uncertainty with many church leaders over the past year, offering our best counsel on how to move forward with sound stewardship.
Coming out of these challenging times, we are seeing two opportunities emerge for churches to expand or remodel in affordable and financially sustainable ways.
One: Repurposing Commercial Buildings
Fueled by the changing spending habits of U.S. consumers and the growth of e-commerce, there has been a growing trend of retail brands closing their brick-and-mortar locations over the past 10 years. Due to the economic impact of COVID-19, this trend has been greatly accelerated in 2020. A record 9,500 stores went out of business in 2019. That seemed massive — but as many as 25,000 are estimated to have shut down permanently in 2020, according to Coresight Research.
The shift toward the use of unconventional buildings for worship has been underway for years. With more large retail spaces available than ever before, this trend is becoming even more prevalent. As the real estate market becomes flooded with these types of properties, they are offering churches some potentially great bargains compared to ground-up construction.
We recently completed the conversion of a Lowes Home Improvement Center for Light of Joy Church in Riverdale, GA. Since the property had much of the infrastructure already in place — including the building envelope, utilities and parking — the facility was remodeled for a fraction of the cost of constructing a new building on vacant land. It also offers the church great visibility in a high-traffic area with accessibility from major roads.
Similar projects are currently under construction in Mars, PA for Discovery Christian Church, where we are converting a 21,000 family fun center. Another project in Warren, OH for Grace Fellowship Church involves the remodel of a 30,000 SF event center. A number of other recently completed projects feature similar conversions of grocery stores, retail strip centers, commercial office buildings, theaters, industrial facilities, and even auto dealerships.
There are several potential challenges in remodeling these types of buildings, as zoning and building codes can dictate how the property can be used and are sometimes difficult to change. Based on our experience, there are five keys to consider in the conversion of retail and commercial buildings for worship. Learn what they are at Commercial Repurpose.
Two: Childcare Centers in Churches
We also believe that this uncertain time calls for a paradigm shift in how churches view their land and buildings. Church facilities have traditionally been among the most underused facilities in America, sitting empty throughout most of the week. There are incredible opportunities for ministries to leverage these assets to both generate sustainable income for the ministry and to serve the needs of the local community — not just on Sundays, but seven days a week.
In recent years, the idea of merging for-profit business on church property has become a hallmark of BGW projects. In many cases, these financially sustainable models can not only pay for themselves and help reduce existing overhead costs, but can also become a true catalyst for ministry growth and community impact.
While there are a number of possibilities for business models in churches, child care centers have proven to be the most natural fit for many ministries. BGW currently has more than a dozen church projects in design or construction across 8 states that incorporate a for-profit child care or early learning center. (Read about some of these projects here.) Strategic partnerships with two leading child care providers allow for valuable input on space requirements and business feasibility from the earliest stages of design, as well as professional management solutions that can help ensure the success of the church’s new business.
Three important factors can help determine whether a professionally managed child care center could be a viable business model to pursue on your church property. BGW and its strategic child care partners work with churches prior to design to understand initial feasibility and provide expert recommendations on next steps.
- Location / Demographics – Demographic data is key in understanding the consumer demand for child care in your area and future trends / growth.
- Competitive Analysis – Understanding the amount and quality of competition for child care services in your local area and their relative strengths and weaknesses will help clarify your potential market share.
- Funding Capacity – An independent financial analysis helps ministries to better understand their current position as it relates to financial preparedness and borrowing capacity to fund a project.
Every church is unique and there is no “one-size-fits-all solution”. If your ministry is interested in exploring opportunities for repurposing a commercial building or incorporating a child care center into your new or existing facility, we invite you to contact us.