Adaptive or Community Use of Underused or Closed Sacred Places

Shared Space Agreements

Congregations who occupy older buildings may have large amounts of unused space, and may not be used to thinking of it as an asset. However, extra rooms in a sacred space can often be valuable in fostering community revitalization and continued neighborhood development. Many congregations already use their buildings to serve the wider public, running programs ranging from soup kitchens, to day care centers, to job training sites. However, many outside social service and cultural organizations do not have affordable homes to run their programs, and look to churches for centrally located, well-configured spaces in which to do their work.

In early 2011, Partners conducted pioneering research that concluded there is strong interest among arts groups, social services, and faith leaders in partnering with each other. The primary motive is often not financial, but rather to develop and sustain new constituencies. Congregations often price their spaces below market rate, permitting social services organizations or arts groups to keep their facility costs down. Organizations sharing church space not only bring in thousands of dollars of extra revenue for the church, but also strengthen relationships and create new ties with community members.

Because of Partners’ strong relationship with the faith community and our expertise in community development and the arts, Partners has extensive experience and connections to networks of arts groups and social service organizations interested in sharing space. In facilitating shared-space agreements, our services include:

  • identification of potential tenants
  • guidance on best practices for sharing space
  • lease development and negotiation

Adaptive Reuse

In some situations, a closed sacred place that is managed by a denominational office, individual owner, or non-profit group may be a candidate for a completely new use. Partners has developed a strong expertise on how to reuse vacant religious properties, drawing on the nation’s largest clearinghouse of practical information on adaptive re-use as well as our extensive experience in organizing civic leadership and design workshops. Partners has been working closely with community leaders in the Cambria City neighborhood of Johnstown, PA, to find new uses for three significant historic churches – St. Columba’s, Ss. Casimir and Emerich, and Immaculate Conception, all of which were closed in 2009 after five parishes were merged into one by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. Recently, ownership for all three buildings was transferred to a local non-profit that will oversee their care and raise funds to redevelop them. More thorough information on this project can be found elsewhere on our website. Our services include:

  • design charrette development and management, an approach that brings together community leaders, residents, and architects to think creatively about the site through the lens of civic engagement
  • community and political engagement
  • business and funding-plan development

For more information on these services, please contact Tuomi Forrest at (215) 567-3234, x13, or via email at