Many Protestant churches in Germany have sold property in the last five years, according to a new study. Church administrations are trying to repurpose their empty buildings or are putting them up for sale.
An increasing number of church administrations are selling property as building maintenance becomes more untenable, according to a study published Friday by the Evangelische Bank, a German bank linked to the country's Protestant Church.
The study surveyed 145 building administrators in 126 church districts from 19 administrative divisions — both regional churches and dioceses. It found that 90 percent of participating administrations said they had sold property in the last five years. In addition, 69 percent said they plan on selling more buildings in the future.
"The numbers show that the church has started to deal with the question of real estate, but that it is still facing many challenges," said Christian Ferchland, a board member of the Evangelische Bank.
The study said half of the regional associations for Protestant churches and one in every two Catholic dioceses has empty buildings. The study also showed that the running costs for maintaining these buildings were a strain on the church communities' budgets.
Germany's churches are facing a decline in membership, the consolidation of churches and canceled pastorships, a problem the Evangelische Bank said it expects to persist in the coming years. However, Ferchland said selling buildings that were used for church services is tricky.
"It's important to take the pros and cons or even the reputational damage that may occur when selling church real estate into consideration, Ferchland said.
Some churches have begun renting and leasing their empty space to interested parties, which the Evangelische Bank said makes real estate management and project development more important. By participating in housing projects for refugees and the socially disadvantaged, the churches may be able to secure stable rental incomes.