Repurposing church housing

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, October 9th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: church owned housing.

For generations, many congregations provided housing for their pastors and pastors’ families. These homes are usually called parsonages or parish houses.

REICHARD: But there’s been a change in the way churches use these homes. WORLD Radio Interns John Vence and Michelle Schlavin spoke with three ministries to find out how they’re using these properties to help others. 

JACOBSON: They built the parsonage next door to this church, so it’s not attached…

JOHN VENCE, INTERN: Bill Jacobson is senior pastor of Seatonville Community Church in North Central Illinois. He’s led the small congregation since 2010. 

JACOBSON: It’s your typical two-story farmhouse type of thing and you know that very typical in that era and it’s it’s older it’s been updated a little bit…

Over the 116-year history of the church, Jacobson is the first pastor to choose not to live in the parsonage. He and his wife built a home a few miles from the church. For almost a decade now, the parsonage has served other purposes. 

JACOBSON: We’ve had some missionaries that have stayed here. We used it for Sunday school a little bit back in the past … And then we have an intern in there right now as well. 

Jacobson says his decision to live “off-campus” isn’t unusual. 

JACOBSON: I know a lot of churches now are are either selling their parsonages or using them for other functions because a lot of pastors don’t particularly want to live next to the church. 

The reasons behind the shift vary. Some pastors want a little distance to help maintain a healthy balance between family and church life. Others would rather buy their own property to build financial equity. 

JACOBSON: There is more of a trend to not live in the parsonageI know some that’s what they’ve shared with me that they prefer to not live in the parsonage and they prefer to live in town.

So if pastors choose not to live in the parsonage, what does a church do with this vacant property? Michelle Schlavin spoke with a Phoenix pastor, to find out what his church decided to do. 

BUCKLEY: I’m the founding pastor of Living Streams. My wife and I started the church in our living room back in 1984.

MICHELLE SCHLAVIN, INTERN: That’s Mark Buckley. Over a decade ago, Living Streams Church bought its current building. The property came with two houses. The first served as a refuge.

BUCKLEY: We were using it as a respite shelter for homeless men who went through surgeries. And after they would get out of the hospital, they had nowhere to go. 

About a year ago, the last of those men moved out and the church now uses the home for its youth ministry. 

The second home provided offices, counseling rooms, and a meeting place for small groups. Then, in 2018, Living Streams converted the home into transitional housing.

BUCKLEY: We want this to be…for boys aging out of the foster care system…

The church calls it: “The Lighthouse.” It sees the home as a source of Christ’s light to the community.

BUCKLEY: For many of them, they’re, they’d be literally back on the streets or renting an apartment with whoever they happen to know. It’s hard enough for a Christian kid from an intact family to make the right choices when they move out of the house for the first time. And it’s really doubly difficult for kids that have been in the foster care system… 

Four young men are living there now. 

While Living Streams is establishing long term ministries in its former parish homes, other churches are choosing more flexible options. 

Dover Bible Church is the only church in the village of Dover, Illinois. It was founded in 1838. Chuck Warren serves on the elder board. 

WARREN: The pastor’s family has always lived here. I don’t think it’s ever been anything except the pastor and his family that have lived here. Being a small church, you know, our salary base is not the greatest. So being able to offer a home, uh, is enticing to some folks

A few months ago, when their former pastor moved out, the elders were left with an empty house. They first contemplated selling it, but they felt God was calling them to use the property for something else. 

WARREN: We know…missionaries come back on furlough. Some of them need housing. So, uh, the elder Don Elmore, his suggestion was why don’t we just keep it, we already own it. It doesn’t cost us anything…

The church decided to set aside the building as temporary housing for missionaries and other ministry partners. Over the last few months, volunteers from the church have cleaned the building from top to bottom and are in the process of furnishing it. Chuck Warren sees the house as a resource to bless others.

WARREN: You know, we really want to present, this belongs to God, so we really want to take care of it and present a very livable space to somebody.

JOHN VENCE: Back in Seatonville, Bill Jacobsen says the trend of pastors moving out of the parsonage shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. In fact, it’s providing an opportunity for his own small congregation to begin dreaming about how they might minister in new ways. 

JACOBSEN: Maybe it could be a place that could be almost like a halfway house for people that are maybe coming off of a drug rehab program or whatever…and so I’m, I’m kind of excited about that. It might be risky of course, but it might be exactly what God is calling us to really reach out to those broken people. You step out in faith, and do something that you feel maybe God is calling us to use this space, use this asset we have and to, for his glory in a little bit of a different way.

JOHN VENCE: For WORLD Radio, I’m John Vence reporting from Seatonville, Illinois,

MICHELLE SCHLAVIN: …and I’m Michelle Schlavin, reporting from Dover, Illinois.

(Photo/Living Streams Church, Phoenix)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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