Gaining Ground Through Selling Land
The following stories are part of Lake Institute’s story collection, The Faithful Generosity Story Shelf, which highlights congregations and other religious organizations who have sought to use their assets and resources in creative—and sometimes surprising—ways as an expression of faithful giving.
Each entry in our Story Shelf is short enough to be read and discussed during a committee meeting or other group gathering. Our hope is that these accessible vignettes will spark new questions, conversation, and imagination among clergy and laity about what might be possible with the funds, buildings, land, and other resources in their care. Learn about Ways to Use the Story Shelf. If you know a story that should be included in the Story Shelf, submit it here.
Excerpt from Sacred Spaces, Innovative Places with permission from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
About a decade ago, First Baptist Augusta chose to purchase land that bordered its property. Two residential homes had come up for sale and FBC had first right of refusal on both lots.
Fast forward ten years and FBC has moved in a different direction regarding the two lots. In the summer of 2022, the church hopes to finalize sale of the property to a developer. Within a couple of years, the plan is for a new active adult retirement community to stand on the site – benefitting both the community and the church.
Today, most churches are beginning to think about reducing rather than increasing their footprint.
In 2020, a leadership group in the congregation was actively discussing how to reduce their $4 million debt. At the time, a church member was working professionally with a developer hoping to purchase property to build an active-adult retirement community. The church member presented this idea to both the church and the business group. Though the opportunity was unexpected, church leadership was able to recognize the possibility in front of them and quickly pivot.
Planning & Patience
The agreement has been finalized and the church has pivoted, once again, by evaluating their staff, facilities, and volunteers that will be needed to minister to their new neighbors. The leaders of FBC Augusta want to be good neighbors, and they want their church to be an attractive, meaningful place. The leaders are focusing on physical and spiritual access for their new neighbors.
Another attitude that has shaped the congregation in the process is patience. FBC’s leaders have been clear that this decision is not about just selling property – it’s about selling property to the right kind of developer for the right reasons. The retirement community option included not only revenue possibilities but also opportunities for ministry and even a potentially exciting living option for existing church members. Had the developer wanted to build something that the church did not feel good about, they would patiently awaited a better option.
The decision to sell their property has not been without obstacles.
First, the church has worked hard to be a good neighbor. The developer offered focus groups for the community about the project. Solutions were offered about concerns about traffic and increased population.
Second, church leaders had to respond to a few members who felt that selling the property wasn’t a wise decision. Again, churches have often been in the property acquisition business not vice versa. So, this was a new way of doing things.
Third, FBC Augusta leaders have also had to know when to decline parts of the offer. For instance, they would have generated significantly more revenue by agreeing to sell a portion of their parking lot in the deal. However, church leaders ultimately decided this wasn’t in their best interest.
FBC Augusta’s story offers lessons in planning, patience, and strong communication with one’s community. Church leaders also emphasize the importance of church trustees in the process.
For their part, the church has made sure over the years that they asked people with backgrounds in banking, law, accounting and real estate to serve as trustees. The trustees’ main focus is to represent the church in property, legal and financial matters. Thus, when the opportunity with the land sale arose, the church had the right people in place to lead the congregation through the process.
The senior minister also played a key role. While the trustees handled the organizational side of the deal, the pastor focused on the relational side with church members, neighbors, and the larger community. This relational element is every bit as critical as the business side.
At FBC Augusta, the first conversations about selling the property took place in early 2020 with groundbreaking not happening until the summer of 2022. To make such a decision, churches must be patient and comfortable with the journey. They must also realize that you can never anticipate everything that will happen. They must also recognize that there will invariably be missteps and unexpected results. Yet, as in many matters of faith, the hope is that the risks and challenges are far outweighed by the end result.
Insights, a bi-weekly e-newsletter, is a resource for the religious community and fundraisers of faith-based organizations that provides:
- Reflections on important developments in the field of faith and giving
- Recommended books, studies and articles
- Upcoming Lake Institute events