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Church property
You should know about these things before you buy or sell church property. (Flickr )

So much change. Such rapid changes.

I have noted on numerous occasions the incredible pace of change impacting churches. Another change has become increasingly more evident: how and when churches make land purchases.

Here are six major shifts:

1. Churches are more reluctant to purchase land at all. Many are opting to lease rather than buy. Some of them choose to move multisite rather than buying adjoining property. Simply stated, more churches are reluctant to put a lot of cash into a land purchase.

2. Churches are purchasing ahead of population growth. Unlike a retail establishment or a service business, churches don't need to be in a busy commercial area to reach people. Congregations can purchase land where the demographic growth will be in five or 10 years. Such decisions offer more choices at more affordable prices. Church leaders are increasingly recognizing this reality.

3. Churches are buying smaller parcels of property. From the 1960s to the 1990s, church leaders followed a common rule of thumb: for every useable acre, the church can have 100 in average attendance. That conventional wisdom, however, assumed that the church was limited to Sunday morning for its primary worship attendance. It also assumed that the only place to have a worship service was in the sanctuary or worship center. Many churches have multiple venues meeting on their property in various places at the same time.

4. Churches have less usable acreage when they purchase property today. When churches purchase property today, they are often required to designate portions of the acreage as non-useable. Two common examples are increasing landscaping requirements and retention ponds.

5. Churches have to deal with more complex requirements from the community when they purchase land. I have heard numerous examples of these requirements. Some churches must pay the cost of an additional turn lane. Others have to carry the cost of a new traffic light where the church is located. Still others have to pay for the cost of sidewalks, walking trails or bike lanes. The purchase of land often requires other costs than the purchase price itself.

6. Churches often have to demonstrate with greater diligence the need for the acreage they purchase. When a church purchases land as a nonprofit entity, that land is no longer on the property tax rolls. Some governmental entities ask the church to make a clear case for their need of the land. This challenge seems to be an increasing frustration to many church leaders.

To be clear, churches have not stopped purchasing property. But for many congregations, the process and the decision-making rationale are significantly different than they were just a decade or so ago.

I know many of you readers have been involved in a land purchase for your church. Please let me know your experiences, challenges, successes and frustrations.

Thom S. Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit thomrainer.com.

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