Churches across Carolinas forced to sell as they grapple with low attendance

CATAWBA COUNTY, N.C. — Instead of a full house on Sunday mornings, some churches are sitting empty.

It’s a crisis for many churches and “For Sale” signs are going up across the Carolinas.

Several churches are listed for sale near Charlotte right now, including the following:

  • 521 Northwest Boulevard, Newton
  • 605 Clarksbury Church road, Thomasville
  • 144 Steward Street, Spindale
  • 117 Nebo School Road, Nebo
  • 220 Park Terrace Drive, Belmont
  • 428 South Main Street, Granite Falls
  • 13611 Zoar Road, Charlotte
  • 404 North Elm Street, Marshville

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Some of their price tags exceed a million dollars.

Channel 9′s Dave Faherty visited several places of worship where he spoke with pastors about the impact of the pandemic and the difficult decisions to sell.

Jack Mace’s home sits right across the street from the Nebo United Methodist Church, which voted last summer to permanently close. At one time, he and his wife attended services there. He had a front row seat to the decision leading up to the closure as he watched the parking lot have fewer and fewer cars every Sunday.

“It’s kind of depressing,” he said. “It was just always a good church, good people. And then the older crew kind of died out and that was it.”

The historic church, which was built in the 1920s, isn’t alone. According to Lifeway Research, 4,500 Protestant churches closed in 2019, outpacing for the first time the number of churches that opened.

In Rutherford County, First Baptist of Spindale announced in a letter last summer it, too, was closing citing a “steady decrease in our church family and a decrease in contributions.” Because of the size of the church’s buildings, most of the contributions were being spent on maintenance.

Dr. Rick Reid is a bishop with St. Andrew’s Anglican Church. His congregation of about a dozen members worships in a room of another church near downtown Newton. He has seen other churches forced to close.

“God is not the center of most families anymore,” Dr. Reid said. “Families have become busy -- two incomes -- and so therefore the church is not as important.”

Black churches across the Carolinas, which are still feeling the impact of the pandemic, are experiencing a similar phenomenon.

Pastor David Roberts at Morning Star Baptist said they are still taking precautions for their older members, with a space set up in the basement. But many smaller churches didn’t stay open.

“For those looking not to go to church, COVID helped them out,” Roberts said. “But what they wanted to do is, you hear this saying ‘misery loves company.’ They didn’t want to go to church but they didn’t want no one else to go to church.”

Roberts said his church was forced to adapt, holding services in the parking lot and live streaming every Sunday -- but never closing. Today, nearly 400 people watch services every Sunday, but that success didn’t happen at all of the churches.

“A lot of them shut down and are still struggling because they stopped coming,” Roberts said. “They were older. They didn’t have the ability to do a live stream and now, their members are in a habit of not going.”

But Roberts and other pastors say some of the problems with attendance began long before COVID. A study done by the Pew Research Center shows that the number of Americans who identify as Christians was at 64% in 2020, compared to 92% in 1972.

Dr. Reid places a sign for his church service time in the parking lot every Sunday. He hopes the trends change before it’s too late.

“We want our folks to be Christ like and learn all they can about God and his word,” he said.

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