Most denominations in America are declining. And as membership rolls and weekly attendance shrink, large church properties go largely unused. Because the costs of simply maintaining big buildings and vast parking lots are significant, many churches are looking at their options. Some close and sell their properties; some downsize; while others look to host other alternative uses.
At the same time, the demand for private, religious schools is on the rise. COVID shutdowns, school choice initiatives, and a growing dissatisfaction with public schools have all fueled this demand. But the supply of affordable private school options is not keeping up with the demand. Existing schools that want to expand and new groups that want to start their own school often struggle to find suitable property and space. The cost of acquiring land, building a traditional school, and obtaining all the requisite permit approvals are often prohibitive.
The best solution for both groups may be to find ways to convert existing, unused church properties into school space. Many existing churches already have large assembly spaces and parking lots, classrooms, kitchens, and even libraries. While the vision or hope may be to someday build a school from scratch, acquiring or using existing church properties may provide a suitable and much more affordable option.
While this option makes a lot of sense for both churches and schools alike, there are several critical factors which should not go overlooked. Zoning, land use, and building regulations may be triggered by the change in use or intensity. Neighbors who have grown accustomed to living next to a relatively quiet church property may not welcome a bustling school. Municipal officials may want to see the church property back on the tax rolls and converted to a use that generates revenue for the community.
So, whether you are a church that wishes to rent or sell its property to a school or a school group that wants to lease or acquire a church property, you should consult with an attorney that can help you navigate the complex world of zoning and land use regulation and set your church or school up for success. At Dalton & Tomich, we have helped churches and schools all across the country advance their noble missions and overcome the various legal barriers that stand in their way.
If we can be of service to your church or school, please contact us.