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Monday, June 20, 2016

Churches are born, grow, and die… unless the have a plan and follow it.

     As a real estate professional for over 15 years I have had the interesting opportunity to be a witness to real estate cycles, neighborhood block lifecycles and even church lifecycles.  The average person does not think about this, but I have had to sell houses and put some church deals together and gained a very good insight that may qualify me to provide business advice to a senior pastor.  In particular, I worked on putting together a deal that fell apart for McCoy Memorial Baptist Church near downtown Los Angeles.  They have been serving their local community since 1935, and then one day everything was completely different.  How did this happen?

     As you can imagine, the demographic changes within the community surrounding the church have been nothing short of cataclysmic.  What was once a primarily African American neighborhood due to a wave of African American Immigration to Los Angeles and the farms in Compton from the Southern States in the late 1930’s and into the 1940’s later became a Spanish Speaking Neighborhood with a wave of Central American and Mexican immigrants in the early 1980’s.

So here it was an African American based Baptist Church in the middle of a Catholic Spanish speaking highly dense Hispanic community  They were like a fish out of water.  Their attendance dwindled rapidly and the elder and wealthy trustees had moved far to more affluent neighborhoods. Though this is a dramatic result, it did not happen overnight or rapidly.  The senior leadership of the church failed to “forecast” the changes in demographics and to adapt to their new realities.  The old adage: “the only thing certain is change” is a propos.

     This circumstance is far from unique.  I cite another example, my wife was the president of  Church Council at a Lutheran  Church in a well-known affluent city.  There a change of the guard was in full effect.  The average age of a person attending service was probably 65 years old.  There were basically the people that had worshipped all of their lives there, and very few families with young children.  I never witnessed any teenagers. The building is outdated, the crowd is not hip.  How then to increase attendance and appeal to the new generation of millennials?  The only thing keeping the income going to facilitate their ministry is the Child Care Center.  This was a source of income and since it is super well-respected a magnet for young families.  However the vast majority of these young families happen to be Jewish and not Lutheran, so is not a natural pipeline into the church side.

     The aging church requires succession planning and a growth strategy. This is a valid subject to consider and idea to develop.  The church leadership must take inventory of the demographics around them, and the age of their attendees.  They must also take inventory of their facilities and how attractive or not they are to new millennial constituents.  Perhaps an “extreme makeover” is needed.  Maybe a relocation?  Maybe a downsize?

Social media, web presence and pure marketing can only do some much.  A church is a place of congregation and the physical space and location shape the experience of the attendees and their desire to continue attending.  It is not enough to have a good message.  After all everyone is competing for people’s attention, money, and time.  Do not let your church become obsolete for lack of planning. The location, building, design and all real estate are a key part of this plan and they should not be neglected.

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