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Sell Your Church Property to Serve Your Shrinking Congregation

For church communities with a shrinking number of people in the congregation and where the average age of those in the congregation keeps getting older, there is a new way to finance ongoing ministry to the people in such congregations.

These people, these communities, are usually asset rich and cash poor.

Previously, once the last person had left or died, the buildings were sold off. Those who had used the buildings had not received the financial benefit of the assets – quite the opposite. The shrinking and ageing group of people usually struggle to pay for ministry and for the upkeep of their buildings.

Reverse mortgages are well known in many other countries, but New Zealanders are only slowly coming to see their advantages. Now there is a not-for-profit company that applies the principles of a reverse mortgage to benefit church communities.

In the (relatively-recent) past, every geographic area with a population of between 5,000-10,000 people would strategically have an Anglican parish. And with such a population base, one would expect at least 100 people in church on Sunday – with all ages and stages. With care, such a parish sustained buildings and paid ordained ministry, and also supported and cared for anyone within the parish boundaries.

But, times have changed fast. Strategic planning has shifted from a focus on the wider community. When was the last time you heard the words “missional” or “emergent”? If a half a percentage point of the local population turn up in the Anglican church – that would be regarded as worth writing about. Most congregations now consist of retired people and people in their final stages of saving up for retirement. These do not have the spending power to finance building repairs and clergy remuneration.

But now, there is a new way to care for this last gasp of Anglicanism in such a situation. For these Anglican parishioners, the tradition of paying it forward has come to the end. Most of them have been financial contributors all their life – now there is a new scheme that recognises that and benefits these Anglicans in their sunset years. It recognises Anglicanism’s sunset years in their context.

Essentially, the community hands over the equity in their buildings (church, hall, vicarage, offices, etc) in return for regular payments. The community uses these funds released to remunerate clergy, organists, pay for power and heating, and upkeep and beautify grounds, etc. The community continues to use the facilities until the last parishioner has gone.

The church has a carefully-focused programme for the wellbeing of older clergy – including caring for their financial welfare. There has not really been any similar concern for the laity – until now.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, Anglican clergy are an ageing group. The number of people being (minimally) trained and ordained and the age at which they are being ordained obviously impacts on planning for the mutual fund that supports clergy financially in their retirement. Great care has been taken to provide for those who are currently ordained until their death. Should the time come when no more are ordained in this country, the actuaries are convinced that those currently ordained will be cared for by the funds in hand.

But until now, there has not been anything resembling this for laity. Many parishes have an attendance of less than 50 people on Sunday. Many of these congregations are ageing. Parishioners are dying, but they are not being replaced at the rate that they are dying. Who will care for the shrinking number of congregants spiritually, and for the buildings in which they meet?

The Anglican Parish Reverse mortgage Investment Ltd will change all this. Funds will be On hand for Our Lay people.

The pilot programme – which is running for three years – is beginning this first day of the financial year, 1 April 2019. During these pilot years, communities can, with their bishop’s permission, voluntarily opt in. This involves every regular worshipper completing an actuarial questionnaire. Based on this, a reverse mortgage will be applied to that community’s property.

To put it simply – the property owned by this community will be “sold slowly” and the money used to finance the needs of the community. When the last member of the community has died, the full usage of the property passes to the new owner.

This has all been so organised that three years from now, in 2022, when it is half a century since the New Zealand Anglican Church Pension Fund Act 1972, a new Act will be put through parliament that will mean that the voluntary nature of the pilot scheme will cease and bishops will be able to require communities, that the bishop discerns to have no viable future, to participate in this programme.

Elements leading to the bishop’s requirement for a parish to join the reverse mortgage scheme will include

  • that the worshipping community is small, ageing, and shrinking in numbers
  • that the worshipping community has not, over its recent history, engaged in service or outreach to its surrounding population
  • that the parish has no real understanding of the 21s-Century context in which it lives
  • that the parish has no 21st-Century engagement online, nor has any connection with young people who can help it engage, nor has any interest in seeking such an engagement

Other elements will, no doubt, become clear during the current pilot-programme period.

It is also hoped, if the three years of the pilot scheme is successful, that the scheme will be extended beyond the Anglican Church, beyond church generally (say to other organisations with a similar demographic, assets, and issues), and beyond these shores internationally. The more shrinking, ageing, and dying communities involved in the programme, obviously the more secure financially this initiative will be.

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6 thoughts on “Sell Your Church Property to Serve Your Shrinking Congregation”

  1. Ka pai Fr.

    I was reading in astonishment.

    Well done for bringing a smile to the toast and marmalade this morning.

  2. What an excellent idea Bosco!
    Once again you are to be congratulated on your innovative thinking that annually lightens Lent.
    Such a pity the scheme is only available for one day each year. Or would that be only one day in each three-year liturgical cycle?
    Keep smiling!

  3. I’m reading this well past its posting date, so my first thought was whether Tom Selleck would play in your country. (he’s the talent on a reverse mortgage commercial in the U.S.) Then I realized I had fallen once again….. thank you for making the clue more obvious than in previous years. As I age, I evidently need this clarity.. :O)

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