Converting a Church into a Residence

By: Bill Kibbel , Contributing Writer
In: Non Residential Buildings, House Styles

I recently read about a guy that is now using his home as a church.  The idea was to almost eliminate the property tax.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work when you convert a church into a home.

I’ve found that there’s a difference of opinion on church conversions.  Some seem to be against the idea of a “House of God” being used for any other purpose.  I think converting old buildings to a new use is the best way to ensure survival.  With the decline of church attendance and demographic changes of recent times, it seems that there are many more vacant church buildings that will likely fall into disrepair, unless deconsecrated and adapted to a new use.

I’ve had the pleasure of inspecting many converted churches and have gotten involved with a few pre-conversion.  The interior “sacred spaces” can be adapted to some wonderful living areas, but have also been made over into some unique business interiors.  I’ve seen church buildings converted into a restaurant, community center, antique shop, health center, art gallery, and even a bar.  It can be difficult converting the space to a new use without altering the character of the original building.  Some commercial uses may welcome the large open space of the original congregation worship area, but a residential conversion often begs for it to be divided into smaller compartments.   For many centuries, we’ve been used to separate rooms for specific activities in our homes.  If a family could adapt to a few small, private chambers off of a single, multi-purpose room, the interior character could easily be maintained.

I feel it’s even more important to respect and maintain the historic character of the exterior of the building.  I’ve found that church structures were often built to a very high standard, with superior workmanship and materials (they probably wanted to impress their “Boss”).   I imagine the original builders intended the building to last forever.  Historic churches have usually been part of the community for at least a century or more.  Many have likely been used as much more than just a worship site.  Other functions often included community meetings, voting, charitable and social functions, to name just a few.  If you intend to buy, or are converting a church, I suggest being sensitive to the established community and past parishioners.  Don’t be surprised if occasional visitors appear, like a couple celebrating their 60th anniversary that have traveled back to the church where they were first married.  If you happen to be lucky enough to have an adjacent cemetery, don’t worry–they’re quiet neighbors.

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  1. 9 Responses  to “Converting a Church into a Residence”

  2. Bob Logan
    Aug 29, 2011
    HELP! We are looking to buy a Church, its 90 years new, has a 1000sqft basement (wine cellar)and 3500 sqft above grade. It is in good condition, being sold as a residence. Where can we find plans, pictures or information on interior spaces?? Like a giant Gourmet Kitchen and great room!
  3. Denver Rice
    Aug 29, 2011
    I'm getting ready to purchase a bldg. built in 1850 and run as a house of ill repute and tavern for 24 years. I want to convert it into a home. Any suggestions would help.
  4. amanda
    Aug 29, 2011
    To Karen and Kay My husband, 4 kids and I also bought an old church in Iowa it was built in 1893. We have lived in it since August 08 when we purchased it from the church we attend. I see so many sites on how not to redo the outside but it is cheap vinyl sided fake stained glass windows that leak more air than the air conditioner. I wish there was someway we could all chat about our new adventures with our beautiful homes. Of and all the stories of bats well yes i have those too. My children and their friends definatley think we have the coolest house in town. i think i will be 100 yrs when it is finished. Wall have gone up and walls have come back down.
  5. Kay
    Aug 29, 2011
    I just bought a church, has become our home, we need ideas (photos)how to make use of space. thank you Kay
  6. Aug 29, 2011
    I just bought an old church in a small Illinois town. Are there any good books or websites on how to turn such spacious places into livable or office-usable spaces? I just don't have a clue. Karen
  7. Lucy
    Aug 29, 2011
    When I met my husband he was living in a church he'd converted into a photography studio. I loved it there. It had been a spiritual temple and the broker told my husband they (I think they were Universalists?) used to hold seances. I guess it still appeared to be a church to most passersby, even though there was no sign or cross or anything, as people would occasionally knock on the door to ask for charity. One day my husband's assistant answered the door to find a man in a wheelchair asking if someone at the church could empty his colostomy bag. True story! My husband sold the place about 5 years to a group of Buddhists. He was happy that it would once again be a place of worship. Plus, I'm sure the Buddhists are much more accommodating re: colostomy bag disposal...
  8. Aug 29, 2011
    Dear William , I would like to illustrate this blog post with a couple of interior pictures of a church converted into a house in Spain . Can you tell me how to do it ? May I send them to you via private e-mail ? Kind rgds -
  9. Brad
    Aug 29, 2011
    Another great article, thanks Bill!
  10. Brian
    Aug 29, 2011
    What a great story, Kibbel. Are those pictures of converted churches? I'd love to see interior shots as well. blog on.