If you’ve never sold a church building before, you may not fully appreciate all that goes into a successful sale. Whether you’re moving to a new location, shifting to a different ministry model, or must forever close the doors of your church, here are five steps to consider to make your sale as smooth as possible.
Find out if you can sell
You may or may not be able to sell, depending on who actually owns the property. If your church is independent, then you likely have the latitude to sell. However, if you’re part of a denomination, there will be governance indicating whether or not — and how — you can sell the building. In this case, the physical building may be held in trust for the wider church body, and the denomination may help you sell it.
Another thing to look at: Do you have bylaws that will support the sale, or does your board need to undertake amendments to the existing bylaws to accommodate a sale?
Prepare your congregation
As a leader in a faith community, you understand that the decision to sell church properties is much more than a transactional one. There’s emotion involved for all, from the pastor to the board to the individuals and families who count on the fellowship and association they get from participating in the church.
Never sell your church property in secret. Timing is key, of course, but communicating your intent to sell in advance is needful for preserving trust with those who count on you. Depending upon your church organization, selling may require an affirmative congregational vote.
Decide what you’ll do with the proceeds
Once again, church governance will largely determine what can be done with the money. Many times the proceeds from a sale must be used to purchase a new church building, be donated to other churches or nonprofits, or to the community.
Hire the right real estate agent
Selling a church is complicated. Everything from valuating the property to marketing it to negotiating the sale requires special consideration and even a level of sensitivity not found in other real estate transactions.
Having the right real estate professional in your corner — meaning, someone who understands this complexity, and who also understands where you’re coming from as far as mission goes — will ensure that everything is handled in the right way.
He or she will also have an understanding of how church finances and governing work, and can operate within and in support of those parameters. Having a real estate agent with knowledge specific to selling church real estate and the requisite paperwork can also help protect you from risk and liability.
Work with an attorney who has the right experience
Similar to needing a real estate agent who has church real estate experience, you should seek the assistance of a lawyer who can assist with the title process. The land your church has been built on could have deed restrictions, or reverts back to a previous owner in the event of a sale. There could be zoning issues, as well, if the buyer is not a church.