Nonprofit tries to keep churches from becoming condos

'We're seeing these houses of worship vanishing,' the group's director said

Washington, D.C., nonprofit Sacred Spaces formed in 2017 to combat a single startling statistic: the city has lost more than 25 percent of its places of worship since 2008.

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"We're seeing these houses of worship vanishing and realizing these are vital spaces of neighborhood life," Liz Laird, the group's executive director, told FOX Business. "There's a phenomenon going on across country ... In a lot of major cities, that's because of redevelopment."

Liz Laird is executive director of Sacred Spaces in Washington, D.C. (Joseph Claire)

Sacred Spaces takes a multifaceted approach to helping congregations make the most of their buildings and continue to serve their communities.

One such church is Mosaic Church of the Nazarene in northwest D.C. Because of Sacred Spaces, Mosaic decided to hire an executive director to "take our church into the next chapter," Church of the Nazarene district superintendent David Bowser told FOX Business.

"They've been very instrumental in helping us to understand ways we can rethink ... as we begin to look at next chapter of relevance for our churches," Bowser told FOX Business.

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Sacred Spaces works with congregations in three ways: first, to help them rethink how they can use their space to financially support their missions; second, to help new churches and other groups plan their presence in the city; and third, to educate the public about the group's purpose.

Mosaic, a congregation that's more than 100 years old, was facing many challenges when Bowser heard about Sacred Spaces. But selling the roughly 90-year-old building was never on the table.

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"We were faced with an aging congregation, a drive-in congregation," Bowser said. "We were faced with a building that had had no major capital invest in probably two decades .... and we were faced with a diminishing economic base that would sustain a vibrant ministry."

Sacred Spaces brought in Will Teass of Teass \ Warren Architects, a residential-focused firm in Washington, D.C., to take a look at Mosaic. Volunteering for Sacred Spaces gives his firm a way to give back to the city, Teass told FOX Business.

Will Teass (left) and David Bowser (right) do a walkthrough of Mosaic Church of the Nazarene in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy of Liz Laird)

"All of the churches we visit, all of them are wonderful spaces. Some of them need a little more attention than others," he said. "For us, what comes as second nature is really valuable for them. They’ve been really grateful."

Teass' firm has worked on projects that turned churches into residences, but he said he didn't see an awkward tension there. Every case is different, he said.

"We had an interesting project in Petworth in D.C. A client bought a church and accompanying parsonage. In that case, it was converted to residential use," Teass said. "The church wrote the developer a year later and said, 'Thank you ... It allowed us to take money we received to build a church closer to where the congregation was in Maryland.'"

Laird said giving D.C. residents like Teass the opportunity to do good with their professional skills is an added bonus.

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"There are so many ways you can use your professional skills for the good of our city," Laird said. "Maybe you're a lawyer, and you're willing to review a contract between a church and a nonprofit that wants to rent their space. Maybe you're an accountant willing to do review of the books. … It's a really easy way for people to use skills they have."

Sacred Spaces is planning on a $150,000 operating budget for 2020 and hopes to raise $40,000 over the holiday season. A generous donor is matching every gift over $500 up to $10,000 until the end of the year.

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