Large and small houses of worship don’t always live out their lives as religious sanctuaries after congregations outgrow their buildings. An old synagogue in Chicago became headquarters to Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition. Towns have turned vacant churches into antique shops. You may have eaten in a restaurant that was formerly a church. Whatever your plan for the building you seek may be, may find extra blessings from occupying sanctified ground.
Make certain everyone involved with your church purchase effort agrees on the objectives and goals you've set to buy a building suitable for your needs. Get buy-in from your board of directors, church administrators or advisory group so everyone has a clear understanding of the long-term implications involved with financing a commercial property.
Seek funding. Anticipate using a combination of sources to meet your church property acquisition goals: capital campaign, donations, bank loans, investors and other resources. Take the advice offered by experts if you'll be using the building for religious services: contact commercial banks and bond finance companies first, as these are the sources used most often for financing church property.
Start your building fundraising efforts early—at least a year before you plan to shop the market for appropriate facilities. Tally contributions as they come in, using a sign or symbol to mark the progress of your fund-raising efforts—a graphic thermometer, in a public place, is a great way to depict the project's financial progress and incentivize people to contribute.
Locate the appropriate church property. Use a real estate agent in your area or turn to a specialty commercial church real estate firm that handles church real estate sales and purchases exclusively. Make a list of the features you require in a church building: a good location, safe neighborhood, fits within the set budget, zoned for commercial use and is in good physical condition so renovations required are more cosmetic than infrastructural.
Negotiate the sale price once you’ve found church property that fits your vision. Share documentation related to the transaction with your finance committee or advisors working with you toward the acquisition of a building. Recruit professionals—a plumber, electrician, contractor and other volunteers to examine the church building rather than paying for a pricey building inspector if the church is to remain a house of worship.
Acquire permits and licenses required by your state and community. Seek pro bono legal representation for contract, sale and closing help if you’re already operating under the tax laws your state offers to religious groups. Make certain your attorney ferrets out and moderates language adding prepayment penalties to the deal, particularly if a pledge program has been put into place for retiring the mortgage debt on a specific schedule.
Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.